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Covered California enrollment starts this week

Covered California Executive Director Peter V. Lee will be in Templeton on Wednesday to promote health insurance sign-ups for 2016. The Covered California tour bus, with Lee kneeling on the left, was in San Luis Obispo on Nov. 17, 2014.
Covered California Executive Director Peter V. Lee will be in Templeton on Wednesday to promote health insurance sign-ups for 2016. The Covered California tour bus, with Lee kneeling on the left, was in San Luis Obispo on Nov. 17, 2014. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

Open enrollment to buy a 2016 individual health insurance policy through Covered California started Sunday and continues through Jan. 31.

On Wednesday, Covered California Executive Director Peter V. Lee will swing through San Luis Obispo County while on a two-week, 38-city promotional bus tour that began Thursday in San Diego. His tour coincides with a $29 million advertising campaign that Covered California is launching with its first TV commercials Monday.

Lee’s bus will make one stop in San Luis Obispo County on Wednesday, at Twin Cities Community Hospital in Templeton, from 10 a.m. to noon. He will speak at the event and certified enrollment counselors will be on hand to help people sign up for health insurance.

This year, as in the past, people can compare and purchase a policy on the Covered California website and by calling its information line, or through insurance agents and enrollment counselors certified by Covered California to assist people free of charge. In San Luis Obispo County, about 150 insurance agents and six community agencies have been certified.

The bus tour is a reprise of a similar tour that Lee undertook a year ago to launch the 2015 open enrollment. That time, Lee stopped in San Luis Obispo and promised that county residents would have more choices in insurance companies by 2016.

That’s happened. County residents who buy a 2016 policy through the insurance exchange will have one more choice than they have had in the past. In August, United HealthCare was approved to sell insurance on the exchange in 34 counties, including San Luis Obispo. In the past two years, only Blue Shield of California and Anthem Blue Cross were available to county residents buying through Covered California.

Also new this year is a hefty jump in the tax penalty most people will face if they don’t have health insurance or Medi-Cal — the state’s insurance program for qualifying low-income residents.

In 2016, the penalty will be $695 per person or 2.5 percent of income, whichever is higher. That’s compared to the 2015 penalty of $325 or 2 percent of income.

Since Covered California launched in 2014, about 90 percent of enrollees has qualified for a federal subsidy of some amount to help pay monthly premiums. That trend is expected to continue in 2016, said Larry Hicks, a spokesman for Covered California.

“That’s the message we have been hammering home,” Hicks said Monday. “You can get the coverage you need and deserve, and you can get help to pay for it.”

Janet Lavelle: 805-781-7931, @janet_lavelle

Buying a policy through Covered California

There are several ways to shop for an individual health insurance policy through Covered California. In addition to going to its website or calling the hotline, Covered California has certified about 150 insurance agents and six agencies in San Luis Obispo County to help people free of charge.

  • Buy directly on the Covered California website.
  • Call the Covered California hotline at 800-300-1506.
  • To find a certified agent or agency to help you, visit the Covered California website, look for the “Get Help” tab and click on “Find Local Help.”
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