Obamacare

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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.

Oakland parent Gabino Pablo came in to sign up for coverage for himself, and Medi-Cal for his 5 week old daughter. He said he knew the deadline was looming, but has no internet access at home.

“I don’t speak much English. I am Mayan, my second language is Spanish and it’s hard,” said Pablo. “A lot of people need help [signing up]. When I go home from here, I am going to tell people I know and send them over here.”

Pablo estimates that only 1 in 10 of the adults in his immediate community are signed up for health insurance.

Schiffrin says the center has taken their staff on the road, too, visiting individual schools to help people sign up.

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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.

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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

Aetna and United Leave California; Who’s Moving In?

By Dan Diamond, California Healthline

United Healthcare has more than 4,700 hospitals in its national network.

Valley Health Plan has four, all located in Santa Clara County.

That relative scale is one reason why United’s departure from California’s individual market last week got so many headlines — even though United only covers 8,000 people in the state — while the news of Valley’s inclusion in Covered California last month got almost none.

And on the surface, the thought of losing the nation’s largest health insurer doesn’t seem to augur much good for the Golden State’s health reform efforts. Especially in the wake of Aetna’s similar announcement last month.

But take the glass half-full approach, a handful of experts say: Think about who’s stepping in to fill the void. Continue reading

Obama Administration Delays Employer Mandate For One Year; Reaction in California

(Photo: David McNew)

(Photo: David McNew)

The Obama administration announced Tuesday afternoon that the federal health law’s employer mandate, which requires large employers to provide health insurance to full-time workers or pay a fine, has been delayed for one year.

Other key elements of the Affordable Care Act will stay in place, such as the individual requirement to have health insurance and the new marketplaces, such as Covered California.

The administration’s announcement cited “concerns about the complexity of the requirements and the need for more time to implement them effectively” as the reason for the change.

“As far as Covered California is concerned, we don’t see this affecting our implementation of the exchange.”
“This is a wise, sensible and pragmatic decision on the part of the administration,” said Bill Kramer, executive director for national health policy at the Pacific Business Group on Health, a large employer group focused on health care. He called the reporting requirements an “administrative burden” on businesses, and said this delay “allows both the administration to simplify reporting requirements and allows employers more time to put in place their own systems to insure to insure that they can meet those reporting requirements.” Continue reading

Covered California to Sell Children’s Dental Plans Separately

By Julie Small, KPCC

(sj_sanders/Flickr)

(sj_sanders/Flickr)

The state’s health insurance marketplace, Covered California, authorized a set of benefits months ago that included dental care for children, but now the marketplace is telling insurance companies to strip out the dental coverage. People would then have to pay extra for a dental plan for their children.

California’s insurance commissioner Dave Jones warns the move could reduce children’s access to dental care and urged Covered California to include the benefit in plans that will be sold when the marketplace formally opens October 1. The change will also drive up costs for consumers, he says.

In a June 27th letter to the board that runs Covered California, Jones says he talked with insurers that originally submitted bids to sell their products on the state’s marketplace and argues dental care is essential. “A child’s overall health and well-being requires access to dental care to ensure oral health,” he wrote.

Covered California is the state’s new health insurance exchange set up as part of the federal health law. It will open Oct. 1 and will be a place where individuals can shop for health insurance which will go into effect Jan. 1. Covered California’s website still shows pediatric dental services as a covered benefit under its health insurance plans. The Affordable Care Act does not require that health plans include dental coverage for children. Continue reading

Advocates Prepare for Confusion and Resistance to Obamacare Among Asians

By Mina Kim, KQED

Doreena Wong will lead a $1 million effort to educate the state's Asian populations on the state-run insurance market Covered California.

Doreena Wong will lead a $1 million effort to educate the state’s Asian populations on the state-run insurance market Covered California.

There’s talk the Obama administration will try to enlist the help of NBA players to sell the federal health law to young men. For its part, Covered California, the state’s new health insurance marketplace, plans to spend millions on an ad blitz and social media strategy. But in a state as diverse as California, one of the toughest challenges will be reaching ethnic communities where English is a second language.

In Orange County’s Little Saigon neighborhood where suburban-style strip malls fill with Vietnamese storefronts, the Affordable Care Act isn’t top of mind.

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