Covered California

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5 Things You Might Not Know About Obamacare

Screenshot from CoveredCA.com, the website of Covered California.

Screenshot from CoveredCA.com, the website of Covered California.

As you likely know by now, the deadline to sign up for health insurance is Monday — at least in California. (The federal government announced on Tuesday night it would give certain consumers more time, but Covered California has not yet extended the deadline here.)

KQED’s Forum devoted an hour Tuesday to taking listener calls about the Affordable Care Act. They invited Emily Bazar, who answers questions about Obamacare in her regular column for the Center for Health Reporting, and me to answer questions.

Bazar and I have teamed up before on Forum and the questions that come up are always surprising. Here I list 5 points raised in the show that you might want to know before completing sign up. Continue reading

Insurance Agents Drive High Asian Enrollment on Covered California

Covered California application in Chinese.

Covered California application in Chinese.

While Latino enrollment has lagged in Covered California enrollments, Asians have signed up on the state’s marketplace in numbers outstripping their representation in the insurance pool. According to new Covered California data, the overwhelming majority of Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese enrollments are coming through certified insurance agents as opposed to community groups or the Covered California website.

There is no charge to consumers who work with agents, whose commissions are paid by insurance companies.

Since January, Asians have been enrolling in strong numbers. People of Asian descent make up about 14 percent of the Covered California pool, according to estimates compiled by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research and the UC Berkeley Labor Center. Starting with the first release of demographic data in January, Asians were already on target, reaching 13.5 percent of all enrollees. In the most recent data from Covered California, which comprised enrollment from Oct. 1 to Feb. 28, Asians made up 22.9 percent of all enrollees.

Licensed insurance brokers can sell customers plans on the Covered California marketplace, but they must first be specially certified to do so. Covered California says 40 percent of its total Covered California enrollments are coming via these certified insurance agents. But within certain Asian sub-populations, the percentage is much higher, Covered California says: Continue reading

Obamacare FAQ: Options for Immigrants

A view of the the Statue of Liberty. (Timothy Clary/AFP/Getty Images)

A view of the the Statue of Liberty. (Timothy Clary/AFP/Getty Images)

The March 31 deadline to sign up for health insurance is now less than two weeks away. On Monday, enrollment on Covered California went over the 1 million mark. But there are literally millions more Californians currently uninsured.

Many of those eligible for benefits under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) are immigrants. If you are a lawfully present immigrant you likely qualify for the benefits — and responsibilities — of the ACA. This means if you do not sign up for insurance by March 31, you may have to pay a fine next year on your taxes. This is either $95 per adult or 1 percent of your income, whichever is greater. For example, if you earn $30,000 a year, you might have to pay a $300 fine.

On the flip side, you may qualify for a subsidy to help you purchase health insurance. You do not need a green card to qualify. There is a long list of visas under which immigrants might be lawfully present in the U.S. Check this list from the federal government to see if your immigration status or visa means that you can quality for benefits.  Continue reading

Analysis: Obamacare Leads to More Competition in Insurance Market

It’s still early days. The first open enrollment of the Obamacare marketplaces is ongoing. But the Covered California marketplace is more competitive than the 2012 individual market, according to a new analysis from the Kaiser Family Foundation. Entirely by coincidence, the study, released Monday, coincided with the news that Covered California had passed the million mark in enrollment.

Analysts looked at exchange data from seven states, including California. Enrollment for people buying outside exchanges, on the individual market, will not be available until later this year or early 2015, Cynthia Cox, one of the foundation’s analysts noted.

“California had a highly concentrated market before the ACA,” Cox said. But the Covered California marketplace has both more companies with greater than 5 percent market share and the percentage marketshare of the largest company has declined, as shown in this graph from the study:

(Kaiser Family Foundation)

(Kaiser Family Foundation)

Continue reading

Covered California Closing in on One Million Mark

Peter Lee, executive director of Covered California. (Max Whitaker/Getty Images)

Peter Lee, executive director of Covered California. (Max Whitaker/Getty Images)

Update 1:00 p.m. Thursday:

Covered California reported Thursday that 923,832 people have signed up for a health insurance plan through its agency through March 9. With 18 days left in open enrollment and an expected surge predicted as the final March 31 deadline comes near, the one million enrollment mark appears within reach.

20,000 people are starting applications every day on Covered California.
In addition to the enrollment on Covered California, another 1.1 million people who have applied throughout the marketplace were determined likely to be eligible for Medi-Cal. Roughly another million people are newly enrolled in Medi-Cal because they transferred in from the Low Income Health Program on Jan. 1 or through other local and statewide efforts.

“When you take these numbers together and add the first nine days of March,” said Peter Lee, executive director of Covered California, “it means more than 3 million Californians have benefitted from the Affordable Care Act.”

With just over two weeks left in open enrollment, Lee says 20,000 people are starting applications every day on the website, and roughly 10,000 people a day are finalizing enrollment by picking a plan.

“These are strong numbers,” Lee said.

Continue reading

Why A Change in Obamacare Open Enrollment for 2015 Is a Big Deal

Certified specialist helps a consumer apply to Covered California at a free enrollment fair at Pasadena City College. (David McNew/Getty Images)

Certified specialist helps a consumer apply to Covered California at a free enrollment fair at Pasadena City College. (David McNew/Getty Images)

The Obama administration released standards for plans for 2015 on Wednesday and one of the tweaks might end up helping scores of families to sign up for health insurance. What’s not clear is whether the changes will apply to California.

Originally, open enrollment for 2015 was set to run this fall, from Oct. 15 to Dec. 7. Then the administration moved it from Nov. 15 to Jan. 15 in a move that was widely regarded as politically motivated — to help shift the bulk of open enrollment (and its likely problems) to conclude after the mid-term elections had wrapped up.

In its announcement Wednesday, the administration changed open enrollment again. It will now run Nov. 15 to Feb.15, at least for those in states using healthcare.gov. More on Covered California in a moment. Continue reading

Memo to Washington: Lessons Learned From California’s Obamacare Rollout

Certified specialist helps a consumer apply to Covered California at a free enrollment fair at Pasadena City College. (David McNew/Getty Images)

Certified specialist helps a consumer apply to Covered California at a free enrollment fair at Pasadena City College. (David McNew/Getty Images)

At the same time that California was releasing its latest enrollment numbers under Obamacare on Wednesday morning, advocates, experts and government officials at all levels gathered in Washington, D.C. to talk about … the Affordable Care Act in California.

Certainly, the rollout of Obamacare in the state has not been without its challenges and yet — California has 12 percent of the nation’s population and nearly 25 percent of all sign-ups nationwide. In addition to the more than 800,000 people currently enrolled in California, another 877,000 Californians are likely to be eligible for Medi-Cal. That’s on top of another 652,000 people who transitioned to Medi-Cal from the Low Income Health Program (more on that in a minute). That’s well over 2 million people total.

Diana Dooley, secretary of California’s Health and Human Services Agency, wasn’t about to gloat. “California is certainly not ready to put up a mission-accomplished banner,” she noted. But there was a lot of respect for California — and a desire to learn — from those in the room at the briefing. Continue reading

California Exceeds Its Target for Enrollment in Obamacare Plans

Peter Lee, executive director of Covered California. (Max Whitaker/Getty Images)

Peter Lee, executive director of Covered California. (Max Whitaker/Getty Images)

With six weeks left to go in the first open enrollment period in Covered California, the state’s health insurance marketplace, California has already exceeded its goal for the number of people it hoped to enroll into health care plans. As of February 15th, 828,638 people have signed up. The original goal had been 500,000-700,000 people by March 31. However, the state is still scrambling to get Latinos on board.

The rate of Latino enrollment showed signs of modest improvement in January. About 7 percent of people who enrolled in health plans through January 31 speak Spanish as their primary language. But the state is still far from mirroring the representation of Spanish speakers in California which is nearly 30 percent.

Overall, Latinos represent 21 percent of sign-ups through the end of January, while that demographic makes up nearly 50 percent of the state’s population. Continue reading

How Covered California’s Outreach to Latinos Is Falling Short

CoveredCA_Spanish

While Covered California’s website is available in Spanish, the agency has a dramatic shortage of Spanish-speaking enrollment counselors. Many Spanish-speaking Californians say they prefer to enroll in person.

California may be leading the nation in its aim to enroll Latinos into health care plans under the Affordable Care Act, but sign-ups are falling far short of the goal. The state’s marketplace for health insurance, Covered California, is scrambling to fix problems with its marketing and outreach campaigns.

For starters, Spanish-speaking counselors are hard to come by. More of them are needed to address concerns of Latinos, who are wary of the health insurance system. Some are hesitant to sign up because they’re afraid undocumented family members will be discovered and then deported. Others aren’t sure it’s worth the money.

People like Larissa Bobadilla are trying to convince them that it’s okay.

“They trust me,” says Bobadilla, a health outreach worker and enrollment counselor. She started working in Los Angeles 16 years ago as a promotora, a health educator. Now, the children of people she helped more than a decade ago are coming to her to find out what’s really going on with Obamacare. “The news gives a lot of information, (but) it confuses the people. They don’t know what is the truth.”

Many Latinos have never bought insurance before. So Bobadilla takes the time to explain what the benefits are and how they work, in their own language: Spanish.

Bobadilla is exactly the kind of person Covered California wants in the trenches. The trouble is, there aren’t nearly enough people like her out there. The state wanted to have 20,000 certified counselors ready to go when plans first went on sale in October. Yet today, it has just 4,000. Continue reading

Missteps in Covered California’s Marketing Campaign to Latinos

Screenshot from an early Covered California TV ad targeting Latinos. The on-screen text says people cannot be turned down for pre-existing conditions, but consultants say that is not a key selling point for Latinos.

Screen shot from an early Covered California TV ad targeting Latinos. The on-screen text says people cannot be turned down for  pre-existing conditions, but consultants say that is not a key selling point for Latinos.

It’s been decades since the advertising industry recognized the need to woo Hispanic consumers. Big companies saw the market potential and sank millions of dollars into ads. The most basic do’s and don’ts of marketing to Latinos in the U.S. have been understood for years.

“It’s not a cohesive campaign targeted to Hispanics.”   

So when California officials started thinking about how to persuade the state’s Latino population to enroll in health care plans, they should have had a blueprint of what to do. Instead, they made a series of mistakes.

“It’s not a cohesive campaign targeted to Hispanics,” says Bessie Ramirez of the Los Angeles-based Santiago Solutions Group, a Hispanic market research firm that has consulted for large health care clients like HealthNet, Cigna and Blue Cross.

“Frankly, it seems obvious that the launch of this program seemed to have actually turned a blind eye to what the needs of this particular consumer were,” she says. Continue reading