Health Insurance Costs


Why Health Insurance in the Bay Area Costs More Than in SoCal

(Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

(Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Over at the New York Times, Elisabeth Rosenthal continues her terrific series on the high cost of health care in America. Tuesday’s installment is a deeply-reported look into the murky world of hospital prices, where a “stitch tops $500,” says the headline.

The lowest-cost silver-tier plan costs 26 percent more in Alameda County vs. Orange County.

But it’s where Rosenthal sets most of her reporting that makes the story a must-read for anyone in the Bay Area. She profiles patients receiving care at California Pacific Medical Center, a Sutter Health hospital — and her piece indirectly brings up the question of higher health insurance premiums here.

These higher premiums were made evident when Covered California released its plans for all the 19 “rating regions” of the state. In Alameda County, for example, the “silver tier” premiums for a 40-year-old range from $317 to $365. In Orange County, the range is $252 to $290 and Kaiser coming in at a high of $332. In other words, the lowest-cost silver-tier plan is 26 percent more expensive in Alameda County vs. Orange County.

Glenn Melnick, a health economist at USC, is quoted throughout the Times piece, and I called him Tuesday morning to talk about this NorCal vs. SoCal difference. “I would say that hospital prices represent a disproportionate share of that differential,” he said, and added that premiums are higher in the Bay Area even after accounting for the higher cost of living here. Continue reading

Will Proposed Obamacare Fines Help or Hurt California Workers?

By Kelley Weiss, CHCF Center for Health Reporting

A proposed law seeks to close the so-called "Walmart Loophole." (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

A proposed law seeks to close the so-called “Walmart Loophole.” (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

For many businesses Obamacare is downright intimidating. The requirement to provide coverage to full-time employees or potentially face thousands of dollars in fines is what’s really worrying some large companies.

Most employees at large businesses already receive health insurance through their employer. But there are still some exceptions.

Barbara Andridge is a sales associate at a Walmart near Sacramento. She’s not sure if she’s eligible for the company’s health insurance program because her hours are all over the map — from eight hours one week up to 36 hours the next.

To qualify for company benefits she says she’d have to be working at least 30 hours per week.

“We don’t support big companies that can afford health care costs for their employees simply pushing those costs onto taxpayers.”

“I really had to sit down and think about my hours and if I’m going to have enough hours to qualify to have health care all year,” Andridge says.

With no guarantee of hours Andridge decided to enroll her six-year-old son in Medi-Cal, the government health insurance program for low-income Californians. Andridge plans to apply for herself soon as well.

Some health care advocates are concerned there will be even more employees like Andridge applying for Medi-Cal once Obamacare kicks in next year. They fear companies will limit hours for workers just to avoid having to pay for their health insurance.

“Employers should not be able to skirt their responsibility simply by exploiting a vulnerability in the law,” says Steve Smith with the California Labor Federation. Continue reading