Health insurance deadlines loom
• Feb. 15 is the deadline to enroll in Covered California plans to avoid a tax penalty.
• The tax penalty for 2015 for not having insurance is $325 per person in a household or 2% of income, whichever is greater.
• Last year, more than 90,000 Valley consumers enrolled from Stockton to Tulare. This year, about 19,000 people have enrolled. Statewide, about 1.1 million enrolled last year and so far this year about 273,000 have signed up.
Covered California insurance agents in the central San Joaquin Valley are ready for a push to get people enrolled in health plans before the Feb. 15 deadline to avoid a tax penalty.
Shann Conner, a Fresno agent, has given up on planning a leisurely Valentine’s Day with her husband. “Next week will be crazy,” she said.
She’s already been busy enrolling Valley consumers. “I literally work from seven in the morning sometimes until nine at night trying to help people sign up,” Conner said.
Clinica Sierra Vista enrollment counselors have also had more people coming in for help at health centers in Fresno. “We do have available appointments and we always take walk-ins,” said Lizeth Lopez, outreach enrollment manager. “But the schedules are filling up.”
This is the second open-enrollment period for Covered California, the state’s health insurance exchange created for the Affordable Care Act. Last year, about 1.1 million Californians signed up to have insurance coverage. Covered California hopes to enroll another 500,000 this time around. But it will take a lot of last-minute enrollments to reach that goal: So far, about 273,000 have enrolled.
Last year in the Valley — from Stockton to Tulare — more than 90,000 people signed up for health plans. As of Feb. 2, about 19,000 had enrolled, including 4,798 in Fresno County, 913 in Madera County, 508 in Kings County, 2,257 in Tulare County and 1,737 in Merced County.
With the enrollment deadline nine days away, Peter Lee, executive director of Covered California, has been stumping across the state for people to enroll and avoid a tax penalty. At a stop in Fresno this week, he acknowledged that it could be difficult to get another half-million people enrolled by Feb. 15.
People tend to procrastinate, Lee said, but he urged them to sign up: “If you don’t get coverage and you can afford it, you’re going to get a penalty.”
The tax penalty due in 2016 would be $325 per person in a household or 2% of income, whichever is greater. This year’s penalty is $95 per person or 1% of income.
Gordon Paul, a Fresno insurance agent, said the penalty has been an incentive. Consumers are completing their tax returns and are coming in saying, “Holy cow, I did have to pay a 1% penalty.” And the penalty in many instances was more than they would have paid in a health insurance premium, Paul said.
Last year, about 90% of Valley consumers who enrolled in Covered California health plans were eligible for subsidies to offset the cost of insurance premiums.
Besides the tax penalty, Conner said, missing the enrollment deadline has another consequence for Valley consumers. “It means you won’t be able to sign up for the rest of the year, unless you’ve moved, lost coverage through a job, gave birth, got married.”
Lee said insurance agents and enrollment counselors in Fresno can explain the health law and help people find the right plan. “We want people to get help.”
Maria Camarena turned to an enrollment counselor at Clinica Sierra Vista to re-enroll with Blue Shield this year. Camarena, 49, has diabetes and her husband has high blood pressure. She needed an affordable plan that could help them manage their chronic conditions.
The counselor helped her pick a Blue Shield “silver-enhanced plan.” The family’s monthly premium is $213.55.
“If you don’t understand all of it and you don’t want to make a mistake, the best thing is to go and get some help,” Camarena said.