January 31, 2020, Deadline to get mandated health insurance via Covered California

Jan. 31 deadline is looming for the Californians, who don’t get health insurance via their employers to apply for coverage, through Covered California, made possible through the federal Affordable Care Act.


In this year, more people will qualify for the subsidies and new funding will lower monthly costs of health insurance for the middle income individuals and families. The new state law also brings back a cash penalty, against those people who don’t have health insurance, that the federal government dropped last year.


Gov. Gavin Newsom championed a state penalty to replace the defunct federal one and also increased subsidies for the middle class to help negate the Trump administration’s attempts at dismantling the landmark program, that has helped millions of uninsured people, to get health coverage, dropping the uninsured rate in California from 17% to 8% in last four years after Affordable Care Act started in 2014.


“I tell people: paying for health insurance is cheaper than paying the tax penalty,” said Chris Hightower, an access coordinator with West County Health Center who enrolls people in state programs including Covered California and Medi-Cal.


People who don’t sign up for some form of health insurance by the Jan. 31 deadline will see the penalty on next year’s tax bill. The penalty will either be assessed as a flat fee, starting at $695 per adult and $347.50 per child, or 2.5% of gross income, whichever amount is higher.


“Covered California” is the state agency created through the Affordable Care Act to sell health plans to people who don’t get insurance through their employers. The state negotiates premiums with health providers. The more people enrolled, the better position California has to get a better deal.


Last year federal government dropped the penalty for the uninsured, it impacted the enrollment in Covered California, declined from 1.43 million in March 2018 to 1.39 million in March 2019, according to an agency report.


21,520 consumers were enrolled in Sonoma County, in an insurance program via Covered California as of March 2019, the latest data is available from the state.


51,310 customers purchased insurance through the state marketplace for Marin, Solano, Sonoma and Napa counties.

Hightower said that he gets about 20 calls a day, from the people asking about health coverage plans, such as Covered California and Medi-Cal, the state’s insurance program for the poor.


When Covered California was new, in 2014, Hightower said that he spent a lot of time talking with people about the benefits of having health insurance, such as the free preventative care like immunizations and screenings.


But now, more people are aware of the benefits of having health insurance, and their concerns are primarily whether they can make the monthly payments even with subsidized plans, he said. Hightower said others simply don’t trust the government.