Obamacare

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Covered California to Request Evidence of Lawful Presence in U.S.

CCHP enrollment counselor Kristen Chow explains Covered California and federal subsidies to a Chinese-language caller. Currently, more than 90 percent of the HMO's members are ethnically Chinese. (Marcus Teply/KQED)

CCHP enrollment counselor explains Covered California and federal subsidies to a caller. (Marcus Teply/KQED)

Some enrollees who get their health insurance through Covered California, the state’s Obamacare exchange, will be getting notices in the next few weeks requesting evidence that they are lawfully in the country.

Yesterday, many news outlets reported on the Obama administration’s announcement that it was sending letters to about 310,000 people who have signed up for insurance through the Affordable Care Act, but whose documentation of citizenship or legal immigration status was at odds with government records. From the Wall Street Journal:

The Obama administration moved Tuesday to cut off health insurance for up to 310,000 people who signed up through the HealthCare.gov system unless they can provide documents in the next few weeks showing they are U.S. citizens or legal residents.

Those individuals have until Sept. 5 to send in additional information that could confirm they are in the U.S. legally, a condition of using the online insurance exchanges to obtain coverage.

Continue reading

Obamacare: With One-Third of Californians Now on Medi-Cal, Can State Manage?

By Anna Gorman, Kaiser Health News

California is coming face to face with the reality of one of its biggest Obamacare successes: the explosion in Medi-Cal enrollment.

The numbers — 2.2 million enrollees since January — surprised health care experts and created unforeseen challenges for state officials. Altogether, there are now about 11 million Medi-Cal beneficiaries, constituting nearly 30 percent of the state’s population.

That has pushed the public insurance program into the spotlight, after nearly 50 years as a quiet mainstay of the state’s health care system, and it has raised concerns about California’s ability to meet the increased demand for health care.

Even as sign-ups continue, state health officials are struggling to figure out how to serve a staggering number of Medi-Cal beneficiaries while also improving their health and keeping costs down. Many are chronically ill and have gone without insurance or regular care for years, and some new enrollees have higher expectations than in the past.  Continue reading

On California Exchange, Only Kaiser’s Rates Will Go Down in 2015

Kaiser Permanente's lower rates on the California health exchange for 2015 may be meant to attract customers. (Ted Eytan/Flickr)

Kaiser Permanente’s lower rates on the California health exchange for 2015 may be meant to attract customers. (Ted Eytan/Flickr)

As all the other health insurers on California’s Obamacare exchange raise their rates for next year, Kaiser Permanente plans to lower them.

The Los Angeles Times reports that a new analysis by Citigroup shows Kaiser’s premiums dropping by 1.4 percent in 2015.

At the same time, the average premium across all plans on the Covered California exchange will rise 4.2 percent.

Citigroup health care analyst Carl McDonald told the Times he thinks Kaiser’s move is meant to draw customers: Continue reading

Expert: Millions More Uninsured Will Get Coverage in Next Three Years

Covered California application in Chinese.

Covered California application in Chinese.

Now that the final numbers from Covered California’s first open enrollment period are in, experts are already looking ahead to the next steps.

Nearly 1.4 million Californians have signed up for health care coverage through the exchange. Another 1.9 million are now covered by the expanded Medi-Cal program. That’s almost 3.5 million state residents.

And yet 5.8 million Californians remain uninsured.

Gerald Kominski, professor of Health Policy and Management and director of the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, said these numbers are on target with early projections. Continue reading

Oakland Schools Help Parents Sign Up for Covered California

Gabino Pablo gets help with Covered Calfiornia enrollment as the deadline approaches. (Rachel Dornhelm/KQED)

Antonia Briones (left), an Alameda County Social Services Agency eligibility technician, helps Gabino Pablo (right) with Covered California enrollment as the deadline approaches. (Rachel Dornhelm/KQED)

The robocall went out this week to every parent of an Oakland public school student:

“Hello! This is the Oakland Unified School District calling to remind you that March 31st is the deadline for enrolling in health insurance … The OUSD Central Family Resource Center is here to help.”

The day after that call went out the Central Family Resource Center, housed in a small portable building. was swamped. Over a 100 calls came in and 30 families dropped by.

“We’re just getting flooded with calls and people dropping in asking for appointments so we’re all hands on deck trying to respond to the demand,” said Eliza Schiffrin, the center’s program coordinator. Continue reading

Study: Californians Qualify for $2.3 Billion in Insurance Subsidies

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

By Jenny Gold, Kaiser Health News

Americans have already qualified for about $10 billion in tax credits to help them purchase private health insurance this year through the Affordable Care Act, according to a study from the Kaiser Family Foundation. (KHN is an editorially independent program of the foundation.)

That’s an average of $2,890 for each of the 3.5 million people who qualified for a subsidy as of March 1 — about 83 percent of those who enrolled in an exchange plan.

Eighty-eight percent of those who have enrolled in Covered California qualified for a subsidy, according to the study.

California had an even higher percentage of people qualifying for a tax credit. Eighty-eight percent of those who have enrolled in Covered California qualified for a subsidy, according to the study. That means a total of 765,000 people in the state will receive tax credits. The study estimates those credits are worth $2.3 billion.

The state also beat another national average. Forty percent of all subsidy eligible Californians had enrolled in a health plan by March 1st. That’s double the national figure, where only 20 percent of those who could get a tax credit had signed up on a health exchange.

Sign-up rates varied greatly by state.  More than half of the subsidy money allotted so far will go to consumers in California, Florida, North Carolina, Texas and New York.

Continue reading

My Five-Week Saga Enrolling in Covered California

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

As a journalist I’ve covered the Affordable Care Act on and off since it was a gleam in President Obama’s eye. The melodrama of the fierce legislative fight; the subsequent relentless attacks against it; the Supreme Court case; and the catastrophic rollout of healthcare.gov — good times for the news media, though not necessarily the American public.

My first unwelcome surprise came when I input all my information, and the system told me I wouldn’t get a subsidy despite the fact that I knew I was eligible.

But of course, the difference between covering something as a journalist and experiencing it as a citizen is substantial. Last year, in part for health reasons, I gave up my full-time job with KQED News. No more long hours: check. No more crazy deadlines: check. No more health insurance: check … my blood pressure. Because our COBRA costs were going to be astronomical, like 40-percent-of-income astronomical. And my health history rendered me uninsurable on the individual market. At least, on the old insurance market.

All of this made me one of the many poster-children for Obamacare, under which insurance companies, starting Jan. 1, would be required to insure my middle-aged ass, and the government was going to help pay for it to boot. Whether this is a victory for common sense and decency, the end of democracy as we know it, or simply a bad idea, I couldn’t say — and still can’t. I only know that the only rational financial decision, personally, was to try getting an exchange plan through Covered California. Continue reading

Government Shutdown or Not, Covered California Opens Tuesday; 5 FAQs Answered

Mark Chekal-Bain, district director for Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner (D-Oakland), discusses the benefits of the Affordable Care Act at Lifelong Medical Health Center. (Lisa Aliferis/KQED)

Mark Chekal-Bain, district director for Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner (D-Oakland), discusses the benefits of the Affordable Care Act at Lifelong Medical Health Center in Oakland. (Lisa Aliferis/KQED)

“California is open for business,” crowed Mark Chekal-Bain at an event hosted by Lifelong Health Center, a medical clinic in downtown Oakland. Chekal-Bain works with Assemblymember Nancy Skinner (D-Oakland).

Tuesday is D-Day for Covered California. At 8 a.m., the marketplace is scheduled to open for enrollment, more than three-and-a-half years after passage of the Affordable Care Act. Even if Congress can’t come to agreement about the federal budget, the federal government will only partially shut down. The marketplaces will open as scheduled.

“We will be enrolling people into affordable health care,” Chekal-Bain said, including Medi-Cal and private insurance plans available on the marketplace. “All of us at the local, state and county levels are committed to helping you.”

[Related: Covered California Is Now Open, Has First Enrollee]

A handful of government types and advocates spoke, but perhaps the most moving was Amy Shrago. She’s a legislative analyst with Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson, but she has a personal connection to Obamacare. Continue reading

The Primary Care Crunch: Not Enough Doctors and More Patients Coming

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

The full implementation of Obamacare and (potentially) millions more insured is now just over 100 days away, on Jan. 1. Questions abound: Will young, healthy people really sign up? How much will my premium be? How does the Affordable Care Act work anyway?

Floating around in all those Obamacare discussions is another question: Who is going to treat all the newly insured? After all, we already have a shortage of primary care doctors. Out of 7 million uninsured in the state, Covered California estimates 1.4 million people could sign up for insurance next year. Plus another 1.4 million people will be newly eligible for Medi-Cal.

To address this question, San Francisco’s Commonwealth Club invited me to moderate a discussion about the shortage of primary care providers. Kevin Grumbach, a family physician and co-director at UC San Francisco’s Center for Excellence in Primary Care, started off by defining the subject at hand. Continue reading

Medi-Cal and Obamacare: Some Surprising Twists

Editor’s Note: This post is part of a regular column from Emily Bazar with the CHCF Center for Health Reporting. Bazar answers consumers’ questions about Obamacare. 

Q: If my family of six qualifies for Medi-Cal under the Affordable Care Act, do we have to sign up for that? Or can we still buy subsidized health care plans through Covered California? … I have real concerns about the quality of care we would get on Medi-Cal. I’m hoping for a positive answer!

A: Sadly, I’m about to disappoint Beth from Modesto and others in her situation.

Medi-Cal is the state’s publicly funded health program for low-income and disabled residents, and currently provides care to more than 8 million Californians. (It is the state’s version of the federal Medicaid program.)

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

Starting in January, Medi-Cal will broaden its eligibility requirements as a result of Obamacare, allowing applicants with higher incomes and those who were previously ineligible, such as childless adults, to get coverage.

But whether you’re eligible for Medi-Cal now or become eligible then, that fact alone disqualifies you from tax subsidies on the health insurance marketplace, which is called Covered California.

Covered California will offer 13 health plans across the state (not all in each region) that cover a standard set of benefits. Individuals and families who earn between 138 percent and 400 percent of the federal poverty level will be eligible for sliding-scale tax credits to purchase those plans. Continue reading