SACRAMENTO — With the final deadline for the current open-enrollment period quickly approaching on Jan. 31, Covered California announced that 1.8 million Californians have signed up for coverage as of Jan. 24, which is a new record high for the exchange. The total represents an increase of more than 350,000 people compared to the start of 2020, as Covered California has used the increased financial help from the American Rescue Plan to expand coverage and meet the needs of people affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The pandemic has highlighted the importance of having quality coverage, and with a surge of COVID-19 infections across the state, now is the time to make sure you have health insurance,” said Peter V. Lee, executive director of Covered California. “We want to encourage anyone who is currently going without health care coverage to check out their options and sign up so they can be covered in 2022.”
More than 6 million Californians have been infected by the virus, and the state’s death total is nearing 80,000.
The California Department of Public Health projects that hospitalizations during the current COVID-19 surge will surpass last winter’s peak, while the California Hospital Association expects the increased hospitalizations and infections to last until the end of February.
In addition, a recent study found that the average cost for a complex care COVID-19 hospitalization, in which patients required ventilation or admission into an intensive care unit, was more than $127,000 in California.
“We are all struggling to adjust to the changing nature of this pandemic,” Lee said. “Some constants, however, are that we know that we all need to get vaccinated, wear a mask, and get insurance to stay well and protect ourselves from financial disaster if we need hospital care.”
The American Rescue Plan is helping Californians get covered and stay covered
The record-high number of enrollees is being made possible by the American Rescue Plan, the federal response to the pandemic, which expanded the amount of financial help available to consumers. The law builds on the Affordable Care Act and work done in California, where Gov. Newsom and the Legislature established a state subsidy program that provided more financial help and — for the first time — extended it to middle-income consumers. Due to the American Rescue Plan, two-thirds of Covered California enrollees are eligible to get coverage from a brand-name plan for 2022 for $10 or less per month. In addition, financial help for middle-income consumers is lowering many of their premiums by hundreds of dollars every month.
“California paved the way for the American Rescue Plan, and the increased financial help is allowing more people to get covered and stay covered,” Lee said. “That’s critical because a quality health plan through Covered California gives you access to needed primary care or mental health services, and protects you from a six-figure hospital bill if you get sick or injured.”
The historic reduction of the uninsured rate in California
California has reduced its uninsured rate by more than any other state in the nation since 2014, when coverage first became available through the Affordable Care Act. The decrease has benefited every major ethnic group in the state and been driven by the state’s expansion of Medi-Cal and the enrollment in Covered California. Between 2013 and 2020, AANHPI uninsured rates have dropped by nearly 60 percent and the uninsured rate among California Latinos has been cut by more than half.
Since the start of the pandemic in 2020, Covered California has played a critical role in expanding coverage to reduce the uninsured rate even further. Covered California established special-enrollment periods to help people get insured and benefit from the new financial help included in the American Rescue Plan.
As a result, Covered California has seen significant increases in enrollment Asian segments, including among Filipino (38%), Asian Indian (33%), Chinese (23%), Korean (11 percent), and Vietnamese (5 percent).
“When the pandemic started, Covered California opened its doors to everyone eligible to make sure they had access to the health care coverage they needed,” Lee said. “We have seen dramatic enrollment increases across the board — including in our communities of color — but we know there is more work to do.”
The open-enrollment deadline is quickly approaching
Covered California joined AANHPI health care and health policy advocates to urge people to enroll before the final open-enrollment deadline. Despite the dramatic expansion of health care coverage for nearly all AANHPI communities in California, significant disparities remain.
Dr. Ninez Ponce, director at the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, a professor at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health and the Principal Investigator for the California Health Interview Survey (CHIS), has been tracking the progress made in health insurance coverage for over two decades. Dr. Ponce spoke about the health insurance and health care disparities in the AANHPI communities.
“Looking at the population under age 65, AANHPIs have the second-highest uninsured rate in the state, after Latinos,” said Ponce. “But within this average, there are differences across Asian subgroups. In 2020, the uninsured rate for Filipino Americans in California is at 6.4 percent, higher than the AANHPI statewide average of 5.8 percent. Prior to the American Rescue Plan, top reasons for not having insurance include some confusion on how to get insurance as well as concerns about cost, not being eligible or being dropped from coverage from their jobs.”
Asian Health Services has provided health care, advocacy and social services for the Bay Area community since 1974, and has been a partner for Covered California enrolling nearly 4,000 Californians since the first open enrollment. CEO Julia Liou spoke about the importance of being insured.
“Access to the highest quality and affordable health care in language and culture is essential for the health and well-being of our families and communities, especially during this historical time.” said Liou. “Preventive care, including regular doctor visits and screenings that can detect and treat serious illnesses – all which are part of Covered California plans – is key to protecting your family’s health and preventing financial hardship from unexpected medical bills. Connect with your local community health center today to help you find out what you are eligible for in care.”
Covered California’s open-enrollment period runs through Jan. 31 — unlike the federal deadline, which ended on Jan. 15 for states that use healthcare.gov. Consumers who sign up by Jan. 31 will have their coverage start on Feb. 1.
Consumers can easily check out their eligibility and options at CoveredCA.com
Those interested in applying for coverage can explore their options — and find out whether they are eligible for financial help — in just a few minutes by using the Shop and Compare Tool at CoveredCA.com. All they need to do is enter their ZIP code, household income and the ages of those who need coverage to find out which plans are available in their area.
In addition to signing up consumers through its website, Covered California also partners with certified and licensed enrollers who provide free and confidential help throughout the state. Covered California works with more than 11,000 Licensed Insurance Agents, who have established more than 500 storefronts in communities across California. Consumers can visit https://www.coveredca.com/support/contact-us/ and search for the agent nearest them.
Consumers can also call Covered California at (800) 300-1506 in English or (800) 983-8816 in Tagalog and get information or enroll by phone.
Covered California’s online enrollment portal and certified enrollers will also help people find out whether they are eligible for Medi-Cal. Medi-Cal enrollment is available year-round, and the coverage will begin the day after a person signs up. In addition, people can apply for Medi-Cal online or by picking up an application at one of the many county resource centers throughout the region.
Covered California is the state’s health insurance marketplace, where Californians can find affordable, high-quality insurance from top insurance companies. Covered California is the only place where individuals who qualify can get financial assistance on a sliding scale to reduce premium costs. Consumers can then compare health insurance plans and choose the plan that works best for their health needs and budget. Depending on their income, some consumers may qualify for the low-cost or no-cost Medi-Cal program.
Covered California is an independent part of the state government whose job is to make the health insurance marketplace work for California’s consumers. It is overseen by a five-member board appointed by the governor and the Legislature. For more information about Covered California, please visit www.CoveredCA.com.
(Covered CA Release)