The Covered California health exchange starts its second enrollment period Saturday under national health reform.
The exchange hopes to build on what was learned from last year's campaign in California, which surpassed all other states. Officials expect 500,000 residents will sign up for health insurance between Saturday and Feb. 15, pushing the state's two-year enrollment figure to 1.7 million.
Applicants can't be rejected by insurers and may be eligible for subsidies to lower their monthly premiums.
"We will need to work harder to enroll those who are still uninsured," said Covered California Director Peter Lee, who is on a 21-city bus tour promoting the program. The tour will stop in San Luis Obispo on Monday with Lee and other officials speaking in front of the Superior Court building on Monterey Street at noon.
"We want to get the word out to Californians not to gamble with their health by going without insurance," Lee said.
Federal law requires individuals to have health coverage or pay a tax penalty. As the state's health benefits exchange, Covered California offers insurance plans for families and adults age 18 to 64.
Covered California is making an effort to improve the enrollment experience for consumers by:
- Doubling its customer service staff to reduce wait times for consumers over the phone. Service center hours will increase and more bilingual staffers will be available.
Two insurers offer health plans through the exchange in San Luis Obispo County: Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Cross of California. There are four types of health plans — bronze, silver, gold and platinum — covering from 60 percent to 90 percent of medical costs.
An individual with annual income between $16,105 and $46,680, and a four-member family earning between $32,913 and $95,400, may be eligible for tax credits to help pay for insurance.
About 90 percent of San Luis Obispo County residents in the first enrollment campaign were granted subsidies, based on income, that reduced their premiums to as low as $20 a month.
The exchange also has launched an insurance marketplace for 2015, called SHOP, for small businesses with one to 50 employees who average 30 or more work hours per week.
In addition, the Affordable Care Act broadened eligibility for the Medi-Cal program. Those benefits are now available to single adults earning less than $16,105 a year or a family of four with income less than $32,913 a year.
San Luis Obispo County residents who signed up for insurance through Covered California in the first enrollment period will see an average increase of 5.1 percent in rates for 2015. Depending on the plan, the increase will range from 1.6 percent to 6 percent.
This year's expansion of Medi-Cal resulted in an application backlog affecting hundreds of thousands of low-income residents statewide.
Starting Saturday, people can apply for health insurance at www.coveredca.com or by calling Covered California at 800-300-1506. To apply for the Medi-Cal program, San Luis Obispo County residents can call the county Department of Social Services at 781-1600.