Covered California signups continue amid talk of Obamacare repeal

January 31, 2017  |   News and Events   |     |   Comments Off on Covered California signups continue amid talk of Obamacare repeal

Californians are continuing to sign up for health insurance through the state-run marketplace created under the Affordable Care Act, despite uncertainty over the future of the federal health care law.

Some 327,000 new people, about the same number as last year, have signed up for insurance plans during open enrollment, which runs from Nov. 1 to Tuesday, according to figures from Covered California.

The figure represents the number of new signups through Jan. 24. Final numbers for the full open enrollment period will be released in February.

Tuesday marks the end of the fourth open enrollment for Covered California, which began in October 2013, and it is the first such period that coincides with efforts by President Trump and congressional Republicans to repeal the Affordable Care Act — the law that created Covered California and expanded Medi-Cal.

Covered California is the state-run insurance exchange where people can use federal subsidies to buy health plans from private insurers. About 90 percent of people who buy plans on the exchange do so with the help of federal subsidies.

Trump, on his first day in office, signed an executive order to roll back the health care law by giving federal agencies the authority to waive or defer enforcement of the law’s regulations. Congressional Republicans have yet to coalesce behind a clear plan to replace the law. A proposal from Sens. Bill Cassidy, R-La., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, introduced this month offers a partial path to replacing the law but it has already been criticized by Democratic leaders, whose cooperation is needed to pass replacement legislation.

The Cassidy-Collins measure would give states the option to continue implementing their own health exchanges — in California, this would mean continuing Covered California and Medi-Cal expansion. They could also switch to a new insurance program, or opt out of the health law’s provisions.

About 1.3 million people are enrolled in health plans through Covered California, which is one of two major components of the Affordable Care Act in California. The second, the expansion of the state’s Medicaid program, known as Medi-Cal, for low-income people and people with disabilities, has resulted in 3.8 million people gaining health insurance.

Tommy Chen, a 25-year-old Oakland resident, signed up for a Kaiser Permanente plan through Covered California this month after being uninsured for eight months. Chen, who works at a parking management company, said he does not have any major health issues. His portion of the monthly premium is $91.

“Prior to getting the insurance, if I were to get sick, I wouldn’t have gone to the doctor,” he said. “I would just go get medication or tough it out. But now that I know I have insurance, I can go to the doctor and I feel a little more at ease.”

People like Chen — young and relatively healthy — represent a critical demographic for the insurance exchanges because their participation helps moderate premium rates.

Premium spikes continue to be a challenge for many states’ exchanges and consumers, including Covered California. The average rate increase for Californians buying plans on the exchange in 2017 is 13.2 percent — more than triple the 4 percent annual average increase the previous two years, according to 2017 rates released by Covered California in September.

Catherine Ho is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: cho@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @Cat__Ho

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