Tuesday, October 8, 2013

California health insurance exchange opens October 1, 2013

Shop at the new health exchange, coveredca.com

In San Diego County, six insurance companies will offer plans in the exchange: Sharp Health Plan, Kaiser Permanente, Anthem Blue Cross, Blue Shield, Molina Healthcare and Health Net.

State health exchange opens Tuesday
By Paul Sisson
Sept. 30, 2013

Outreach worker Ghaith Al Obaidi of the Borrego Community Health Foundation, chats about the new Covered California health insurance exchange with two unidentified men at the El Cajon Farmer's Market Thursday. The exchange has spent millions on outreach to spread the word about he new exchange at community events, health clinics and other locations across the state.

Despite the political battles being fought over the new federal health care law in Washington, Covered California, the state’s new insurance exchange, is set to open as scheduled on Tuesday.

Californians will be able to sign up for health insurance either on the new marketplace’s website or over the phone. Consumers also can apply for income-based tax credits designed to keep premium costs affordable for families.

Peter Lee, Covered California’s executive director, said Thursday that he is confident the new marketplace will be fully functional in two days, as promised.

“We’re good to go on Oct. 1,” Lee said.

Covered California is a key component of the Affordable Care Act, the sweeping federal health reform law approved in 2010. At the core of health reform, often called Obamacare, is the tenet that most Americans have health insurance by Jan. 1, 2014, or pay a small penalty. Enrollment in exchange plans must occur by Dec. 15 for coverage to start at the first of the year.

While the budget brinkmanship in Washington, D.C., continues, states and the federal government are moving forward with implementation of health exchanges required by the Affordable Care Act.

California is one of 17 states, and the District of Columbia, to create its own exchange while seven more are operating in partnership with the federal government. The federal government will also run exchanges in the remaining 27 states where leadership has generally opposed health reform.

A place to shop Covered California takes an Internet commerce approach to selling health insurance. Uninsured residents can go online, specify their locations, and see the plans offered in their area.

Much of what consumers will see is already visible on the website. Those who visit today can enter their family size, household income and ZIP code and receive a list of plans displayed side-by-side, with the premium they would pay and whether they would qualify for a tax credit from the federal government.

Lee said that, on Tuesday, a new button will appear on the website allowing visitors to enroll for policies effective Jan. 1. A consolidated physician directory will also be posted Tuesday, which will allow applicants to search for doctors across plans, Lee said.

“We think it’s a big deal to have a consolidated directory,” he said.

For people without computers, the exchange has created two call centers staffed by 442 operators who can guide applicants through the process.

In San Diego County, six insurance companies will offer plans in the exchange: Sharp Health Plan, Kaiser Permanente, Anthem Blue Cross, Blue Shield, Molina Healthcare and Health Net.

On the exchange, each carrier is required to clearly list the premiums and copays it charges, as well as the out-of-pocket maximums, for each policy sold.

Health reform also requires all exchange plans to cover the same 10 categories of “essential health benefits,” which range from emergency services to prescription drugs.

Because the health reform law is so strict about which benefits must be included, consumers will largely be deciding on premiums, coverage levels and doctor networks when making a decision about which plan to purchase.

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