Two important changes — one a proverbial carrot, the other a stick — have been introduced to Covered California ahead of Friday’s deadline for getting health insurance through the Golden State’s version of Obamacare.
New to the program this year are state-approved subsidies intended to help more people afford to buy insurance from managed-care companies participating in the health plan exchange.
Covered California's executive director, Peter Lee, said the subsidies are expected to open the door for an additional 100,000 people in the state to qualify for financial help with their monthly premiums.
The other major change new this year is a financial penalty for people who don't enroll in some form of health insurance.
Lee said a family of four that does not to sign up through Covered California or some other means might have to pay up to $2,000 to the state Franchise Tax Board.
He noted it's not OK for consumers to wait and sign up later in the year if they suddenly need medical care. After Friday it will be too late, he said. But he added that if they have insurance and then lose it because of a layoff, for example, consumers can still sign up later through Covered California.
Covered California is not a health plan but an independent state agency created by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to help state residents secure health insurance. It is part of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
Eleven health plans participate in the program statewide. In Kern, there are three companies offering insurance through Covered California: Blue Shield, Health Net and Kaiser Permanente.
Kaiser Permanente said by email that several thousand Kern County residents get their care and coverage from the health plan through Covered California.
"Our participation reflects our commitment to providing high-quality, affordable care and coverage for our community," David Womack, senior vice president and area manager for Kaiser Permanente.
"We applaud all efforts that expand coverage for as many Californians as possible," he added. "We believe the steps Covered California is taking can serve as a model for state exchanges throughout the nation."
Blue Shield and Health Net did not respond to emails requesting comment Friday.
Lee said about 90 percent of health-plan enrollees through Covered California receive some level of financial assistance with their premiums. Their individual subsidies can total a few hundred dollars per month, he said, and the average monthly premium through the program is about $600.
As of Thursday, about 17,000 Kern residents have gotten insurance through Covered California, Lee said. He said thousands more county residents are eligible for financial help through the program.
Anyone interested in learning how much their premiums would cost through Covered California can do so at coveredca.com.