Covered California officials visited San Luis Obispo on Monday as part of a nine-day bus tour to spread the word about the open enrollment period for Californians to buy health insurance for 2015.
“We’re doing this to make sure we leave no one behind,” said Executive Director Peter Lee, who was making his first visit to San Luis Obispo County.
Covered California’s turquoise and yellow bus was parked briefly in downtown San Luis Obispo on Monday, with the slogans “CoveredCA.com” and “Enroll by February 15, 2015” emblazoned on the side.
The bus didn’t advertise a phone number — but that omission was by design, as Covered California officials are hoping that people seeking health care coverage through the state exchange will find help locally, Lee said.
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Residents can go to the state website and click on “Find local help” to locate contact information for resources in San Luis Obispo County, including about 140 certified insurance agents and six agencies with enrollment counselors who can help people find help for free.
The state continues to be deluged with calls, Lee said, and it has increased staffing at its service centers to nearly 1,300 people from about 600 in January, and expanded the center’s hours.
“Some people still have to wait longer than we want,” Lee said.
Lee Collins, director of the county social services department, encouraged county residents to turn to his office for assistance.
“We don’t want them (residents) to be frustrated with a system that hangs up on them or puts them on hold,” he said.
About 1.2 million Californians — including 12,256 people in San Luis Obispo County — bought individual and family insurance policies through Covered California by the March 31 deadline.
Lee said the state’s target is to enroll a total of 1.7 million Californians by the end of the current open enrollment period, which started Saturday and runs through Feb. 15.
People who previously enrolled for coverage in 2014 have to re-enroll for coverage next year. They have until Dec. 15 to apply and will have to pay their first month’s premium by Dec. 26 in order to have coverage starting Jan. 1.
Those who re-enroll can expect premium increases of about 4 percent to 8 percent over 2014, according to Covered California officials.
San Luis Obispo insurance agent Michael Framberger said he’s seen across-the-board increases of 8 percent in San Luis Obispo County.
“We’re trying to get as many people renewed as possible now,” he said. “Many people saw significant rate increases. Just about everyone has been in the 8 percent or 8-plus percent range.”
Lee acknowledged Monday that there’s an ongoing concern in areas including San Luis Obispo County that many doctors, particularly specialists, don’t take their insurance.
Just two insurance companies — Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield of California — sell plans in San Luis Obispo County through Covered California.
Balancing accessibility and affordability is an ongoing challenge, Lee said, and Covered California officials are continuing to evaluate access to care providers.
The exchange is the cornerstone of the Affordable Care Act passed in March 2010 — popularly known as “Obamacare” — and is designed as an online marketplace where uninsured people can buy affordable health insurance. Federal subsidies will be offered to help with the cost, depending on income.
Ninety percent of people — in San Luis Obispo County as well as statewide — who signed up for coverage this year received a federal subsidy to help them cover the cost of their premiums.
Low-income residents may qualify for Medi-Cal in a vastly expanded program funded by the federal government.
Tracy Schiro, assistant director of the county’s department of social services, said the number of Medi-Cal cases in San Luis Obispo County increased to 24,868 in September from 12,250 in September 2013.
She attributed the increase to two reasons: people between the ages of 18 to 64 became eligible for Medi-Cal, and others who didn’t know whether they were eligible decided to apply and find out.
Schiro and Collins encourage county residents to seek assistance with health-care coverage by visiting one of the department’s five offices in Arroyo Grande, Atascadero, Nipomo, Paso Robles and San Luis Obispo.
There are also about 140 certified insurance agents to assist people in the county, and six other agencies have certified enrollment counselors: Catholic Charities, Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo County, Community Health Centers, Planned Parenthood, the AIDS Support Network and Conifer Revenue Cycle Solutions. (The latter only has English-speaking counselors, the rest also have Spanish-speaking counselors.)
All of the enrollment services are provided free of charge. The local assistance can be found on the Covered California website by clicking “Find Local Help.”
“Come to us. We’ll be your advocate,” Collins said.