How Californians Can Access Affordable, Comprehensive Health Insurance
Patients trust their doctors. Polls show that when the public is asked which professions rate highest on honesty and ethical standards, physicians appear towards the top of the list.i So when patients have questions about health insurance, they’re likely to ask their physician for advice on picking the plan that best suits their needs.
As a recognized Champion of Coverage, the American College of Physicians has agreed to provide unbiased and understandable resources to its physician members on ways you can help your patients obtain coverage through the Affordable Care Act (ACA). This guide provides specific information for California internists and patients on the resources that are available to them.
The ACA will make health insurance more affordable by providing health insurance tax credits and cost-sharing to the uninsured, underinsured, and small businesses; creating health insurance marketplaces to make shopping for health insurance easier; and implementing insurance reforms to make the market more accessible, predictable, and fair. In many states, the Medicaid program will be expanded to serve more people and health insurers in all states will no longer be able to deny insurance to those with pre-existing conditions.
According to the Institute of Medicine, being uninsured poses a hazard to one’s health. Adults without health insurance are less likely to receive clinical preventive services that can reduce the likelihood of developing serious illness. Those with chronic disease are more likely than the insured to forego necessary therapies. Uninsured adults are also more likely to die from serious acute conditions than those with insurance. Lack of health insurance also takes a financial toll, as 60% of all bankruptcies are connected to the cost of medical care.ii
Nearly 7.18 million Californians under the age of 64 were uninsured in 2010 - 2011. Starting in 2014, most individuals will be required to have health insurance. Patients who need health insurance will be able to purchase it through the state’s health insurance marketplace and may be eligible for financial assistance to help with premiums and out-of-pocket costs. Others may be eligible for Medicaid coverage. This brief guide will provide information and useful links to resources that can help patients obtain coverage that is right for them.
Covered California will make it easy for patients to shop for the insurance that fits their needs.
Navigating the health insurance market can be a daunting and confusing experience, especially for people who don’t receive health insurance through their employer and must buy it on their own. Californians and their families who need affordable coverage can shop, compare, and enroll in health insurance through Covered California, the state’s health insurance marketplace. Covered California can help patients and their families make apples to apples comparisons of health plans and provide accurate, understandable information about provider availability, benefits, and costs. Patients will be able to see what their premiums, deductibles, and out-of-pocket costs will be before they enroll. If they qualify for Medicaid, Covered California will guide patients to the appropriate enrollment resources. Health plans offered in Covered California must meet an array of criteria including essential benefits, limits on cost-sharing, adequate provider networks, and follow new insurance market rules like prohibitions on capping pre-existing condition coverage. Plans will also be assigned “metal tiers” of Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Platinum, with the Platinum level plan providing the most generous benefits.
- Enrollment in Covered California begins in the fall season. More information can be found here.
- Your patients may be able to enroll in coverage outside of the open enrollment period. Individuals who experience a qualifying life event (such as the birth of a child,marriage, divorce, or employment change) or were unable to enroll in the marketplace during open enrollment due to certain complex situations (such as an enrollment website error) may be granted a special enrollment period. Your patients can check with your state’s marketplace for more information on applying for coverage during special enrollment periods.
- Fact sheet explaining changes to health insurance coverage in California starting in January 2014.
Health insurance plans can be confusing. Community organizations can help your patients enroll.
Choosing a health insurance plan is an important decision and patients may need assistance to pick a plan that fits their needs and budget. Consumer assistance organizations, called Navigators or in-person assisters, are on hand to raise awareness about coverage options; help your patients fill out application forms; determine if your patients are qualified for financial assistance; provide impartial advice on choosing a plan; and refer your patients to the state Medicaid agency, ombudsmen or other assistance organizations as needed. Other entities include certified application counselors — defined as a community health center or other health care provider, hospital, a non-federal governmental or non-profit social service agency in a state with a State, Federally-facilitated, or State Partnership Marketplace that receives training to assist people applying for coverage, may also provide insurance information and assistance. If your patient has a question about health insurance enrollment, refer them to the appropriate consumer assistance organization.
More information about certified application counselors can be found here.
In addition, some marketplaces have granted permission for several online insurance brokers, like eHealth, eHealth, to enroll eligible persons in plans offered through health insurance marketplaces.
Covered California will set up call centers staffed by health insurance experts to provide help and information. Community-based organizations throughout the state will be there to provide in-person help to answer questions and assist with enrollment.
Currently, Californians with questions regarding Covered California can call toll-free at 888-975-1142 to access general information about the exchange. The state is in the process of setting up additional call centers with additional resources and enrollment assistance.
Consumers can also request enrollment assistance by filling out a form on the Covered California website.
Patients may qualify for financial assistance to lower the cost of health insurance.
Health insurance can be very expensive, especially for those who don’t receive coverage through their employer. Starting in January 2014, eligible individuals will be able to receive tax credits to buy insurance through Covered California. About 37% of California’s uninsured have incomes that make them eligible for tax credits to help them pay premiums and some will be eligible for cost-sharing assistance.iii
How does it work? Uninsured patients will be able to apply through Covered California website, by phone, by mail, or in person at an establishment that provides enrollment assistance. All patients need to do is fill out the application, provide their Social Security number (or documentation stating that they are a legal resident), family size, employer and income information (such as a paystub or W-2 form), and Covered California will determine whether a person is eligible for premium and cost-sharing assistance. If eligible for subsidies, the applicant will then pick a health coverage plan offered through Covered California and the exchange will pay the subsidy directly to the insurer each month. The applicant pays the difference to the insurer.
- This subsidy calculator can help patients determine whether they’re eligible for premium or cost-sharing discounts starting in January 2014.
Small businesses can buy coverage and get financial assistance to provide insurance for their employees.
Small businesses have a particularly difficult time providing health insurance benefits to their employees due to the high cost, lack of plan uniformity, market volatility, and other factors. To help address these issues, the ACA requires the establishment of Small Business Health Options Programs (SHOP) in every state. Like the health insurance marketplace for individuals, the Covered California SHOP marketplace will give small businesses the opportunity to select from a variety of plan options, compare costs and standardized benefits, and receive enrollment assistance.
To help make insurance more affordable, small businesses that offer insurance benefits and meet employee and average income qualifications can receive a tax credit that cuts the cost of premiums. Starting in 2014, the small business tax credit grows to 50% of the cost of insurance purchased through the SHOP marketplace.
- The Small Business Majority has a subsidy calculator to help small businesses determine their tax credit eligibility.
- Covered California Frequently Asked Questions for small businesses.
California Medicaid coverage is expanding to provide low-cost, comprehensive health insurance to more people.
Starting in 2014, all Californians under age 65 and whose income is less than 138% of the federal poverty level (that’s about $32,500 for a family of four) will be eligible for the state’s Medicaid program.iv According to one estimate, over 2.45 million adult Californians would be eligible for Medicaid coverage, including 1.873 million who would be newly eligible under the health reform law. Patients can sign up for and renew Medicaid coverage through Covered California (via website, phone, or in-person) and their local Department of Social Service or Health Department. Patients can receive a real-time notification regarding their application status. Eligible individuals can enroll in the Medicaid program at any time throughout the year.
- Kaiser Family Foundation: The YouToons Get Ready for Obama Care. A brief video explaining how the ACA will change health coverage for different populations.
iGallup. Honesty and Ethics in Professions. November 2012. Accessed at http://www.gallup.com/poll/1654/honesty-ethics-professions.aspx#1 on July 24, 2013.
iiInstitute of Medicine. America’s Uninsured Crisis: Consequences for Health and Health Care. Report Brief. February 2009. Accessed at http://www.iom.edu/~/media/Files/Report%20Files/2009/Americas-Uninsured-Crisis-Consequences-for-Health-and-Health-Care/Americas%20Uninsured%20Crisis%202009%20Report%20Brief.pdf on July 24, 2013.
iiiStatehealthfacts.org. Distribution of nonelderly uninsured by Federal Poverty Level (FPL). Accessed at http://kff.org/uninsured/state-indicator/distribution-by-fpl-2/ on July 24, 2013.
ivKenney GM, Dubay L, Zuckerman S, Huntress M. Making the Medicaid Expansion an ACA Option: How Many Low-Income Americans Could Remain Uninsured. Urban Institute. June 29, 2012. Accessed at http://www.urban.org/UploadedPDF/412606-Making-the-Medicaid-Expansion-an-ACA-Option.pdf on August 6, 2013.
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