Oct. 01--Today is an important date in the ongoing rollout of Obamacare. After months of roiling debate over President Barack Obama's signature health care legislation -- which continues, intense as ever -- people can actually begin signing up for medical coverage through health insurance marketplaces. In California, the state-run insurance exchange is known as Covered California. Here are some answers to questions you might have about it.
Q. What is Covered California and what will it do?
A. Obamacare, as the Affordable Care Act is sometimes known, established government-run insurance exchanges in every state to sell insurance primarily to people who do not get coverage through an employer or a government program. Covered California is one of 14 exchanges run by state governments. The other 36 will be operated by the federal government.
Starting today, you can go online at www.coveredca.com to learn what health plans are available to you, see how much they will cost and, if you wish, enroll in one. Many people will be eligible for federal tax credits to help them pay for some of their insurance premiums, and in some cases even the whole premium.
Q. Who will get those subsidies?
A. They are on a sliding scale based on your annual income. A single adult with income between $15,800 and $45,960 would qualify for a subsidy -- much greater at the lower end of that range than at the upper range. A family of four with income between $32,500 and $94,200 would qualify for a subsidy.
Q. If my income is below those levels, won't the subsidy be even higher?
A. No. Below those levels you would qualify for Medi-Cal, the government insurance program for low-income people. You would not be eligible to purchase subsidized insurance through Covered California. However, Covered California can determine if you are eligible for Medi-Cal and help enroll you in it. In Orange County the agency that runs Medi-Cal is called CalOptima, which can be reached at 1-888-587-8088 or www.caloptima.org.
Q. So what plans can I get through Covered California?
A. In Orange County, there are four insurers selling in the exchange: Health Net, Anthem Blue Cross, Blue Shield of California and Kaiser Permanente. They will sell a variety of plans at four different levels of cost. The cheapest ones, known as bronze plans, will provide the skimpiest coverage. The most expensive levels, platinum, pay a lot more of your medical bills.
Q. Do I need to buy insurance?
A. No. It's your decision. But the health reform law says that if you don't have coverage starting next year, you will have to pay a tax penalty. The penalty for next year is $95, or 1 percent of your income, whichever is greater. In 2016 it rises to $695 or 2.5 percent of your income, and is adjusted for inflation after that. That penalty is for each uninsured adult in your family. For uninsured children it is half that amount.
Keep in mind that in addition to the penalty, you could also be on the hook for potentially onerous medical bills should you fall ill or have an accident.
Q. Since I don't have insurance, I guess I have to buy it today to lock in my subsidy and avoid that penalty, right?
A. No. Today is only the starting gun, not the finish line. Open enrollment for Covered California runs through March 31. If you buy insurance on the exchange anytime up to that date, you will still qualify for subsidies if you meet the income criteria. If you buy a policy between now and Dec. 15, your coverage will begin on Jan. 1. But to avoid the penalty, you only need to be covered for nine months during 2014 (12 months after that). That means if your coverage next year starts April 1, you will avoid the penalty.
Most Popular Stories
- AIG to Create 230 Jobs in Charlotte
- 15 Myths That Could Ruin Your Hispanic Ad Campaign
- Russia Says Nyet to Canada North Pole Claim
- Bipartisan Negotiators Reach Modest Budget Agreement
- Justin Bieber Visits Typhoon Victims, Plays Concert
- Senate Dems Move Forward With Obama Nominees
- New Obama Aide to Focus on Climate Change
- Obama Nominee Confirmed for D.C. Appeals Court
- MasterCard to Split Shares, Raise Dividend
- GOP, Dems Strain to Unearth a Modest Budget Pact