SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The deadline to get affordable health insurance in California is quickly approaching.

After a tumultuous couple of years, one significant result of the Trump tax cuts on the Affordable Care Act is coming into effect. The health care mandate still exists, but this year, that penalty for not having health care is $0.

After all the discussion and debate, officials with Covered California say there’s been little change to program.

“From our standpoint, not a lot has changed,” said James Scullary, a spokesman for Covered California. “Covered California is still here. Covered California is still available.”

Here’s what you need to know about the Covered California for the 2019 year.

What is it?

Covered California is a marketplace for health care coverage in California; it came about due to the Affordable Care Act.

It’s served around 3.5 million Californians since 2014, with 1.4 million actively enrolled. With the increase in people who enrolled in the state’s Medi-Cal program, it helped reduced the uninsured rate from 17 percent in 2013 to 6.8 percent at the end of 2017.

How long do I have to apply?

The deadline is Jan. 15. If you apply by that time, your coverage begins on Feb. 1.

In order to apply after this deadline, an individual must have a qualifying life event.

What plans are available in the region? *

Some coverage carriers might only serve a partial region. For those details, click HERE.

Greater Sacramento: Sacramento, El Dorado, Placer, Yolo Counties

Blue shield

Health net life

Kaiser Permanente

Western Health Adv.

Central Valley: Includes San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties

Anthem

Blue Shield

Health Net Life

Kaiser Permanente

Northern Counties: Includes Sutter, Yuba, Nevada, Sierra, Plumas, Amador, Calaveras, and Tuolumne Counties

Anthem

Blue Shield

Health Net Life

Kaiser Permanente

North Bay Area: Includes Solano County

Blue Shield

Health Net Life

Kaiser Permanente

Western Health Adv.

What about the health care mandate?

There is technically still a mandate for health care coverage and a penalty for not having it in the Affordable Care Act, but that penalty is now $0.

According to Scullary, if people don’t want to enroll, they can abstain from enrolling or drop their coverage without facing a penalty. However, he cautions people against doing so.

“That’s a bad gamble," Scullary said. "We looked at our own data from 2017, and we found that we had 50,000 consumers in Covered California, who were either diagnosed or treated for cancer in 2017. We had another 22,000 consumers who suffered a fractured or a dislocated shoulder. These are significant injuries that have significant bills attached to them.”

“You know that none of those people expected that that was going to be something that they would have to endure.”

Won’t prices be higher?

For some people applying for coverage through Covered California, costs will be higher. The statewide rate change is 8.7 percent for 2019.

Covered California projected an enrollment reduction of about 262,000 for 2019. As a result, health carriers had to assume fewer people would enroll. This translated to higher rates.

However, Scullary says that people receiving financial help have a level of “insulation” from the rate increases.

“They are sort of insulated from the premium increases, because when premiums go up, so does their financial help. So, it helps offset those things,” he added.

For people making more than $40,000 or with a family of four and making more than $100,000, they likely won’t receive that financial help. This will be the group that will really feel the impact from the increases.

What are some common issues?

Scullary says unfamiliarity with buying health insurance is a common issue and can sometimes appear a little intimidating when people do it on their own.

“I think, for our standpoint, health insurance is new to a lot of people,” Scullary said. “It may be something they’ve never had or it may be something they only had through their employer and it was kind of automatic when they signed up or got a job.”

What do you do about it?

People applying for Covered California have some resources on hand for this issue.

They can apply online in about 30 minutes, call one of the hundreds operating the Covered California phone lines at 1-800-300-1506, or get help from local “certified enrollers.”

“They all speak insurance, and the help is free,” Scullary added. “It’s confidential. These are the insurance agents you know in your community… these are people you know and trust.”

To find a certified enroller near you, click HERE.

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