The 2015 enrollment period for Covered California is wrapping up, and the state appears to have exceeded its forecast of 500,000 new enrollees. According to the most recent available data, more than 495,000 people signed up for private plans through the exchange during open enrollment, and another 93,000 signed up during a special enrollment period from February to April 30. Among those who enrolled before February 22, approximately 88 percent were eligible for federal subsidies to help pay for premiums. In addition, more than 780,000 people enrolled in Medi-Cal, bringing total Medi-Cal enrollment to slightly more than 12 million.
In addition to working to increase total enrollment, the state prioritized outreach to the Latino and under-35 populations during the second open enrollment period. Among subsidized enrollees, the share that are Latino rose from 31 percent to 37 percent, and the share that are under 35 rose from 29 percent to 34 percent.
Peter Lee, Covered California’s executive director, had announced the special enrollment period for uninsured Californians who were surprised to learn that there’s a tax penalty for remaining uninsured. Residents who didn’t have health coverage in 2014 owed $95, or 1 percent of their income (whichever is higher). Those who are uninsured in 2015 face a higher penalty: $325, or 2 percent of income.
The special enrollment period resulted from a discussion about the misalignment of the Covered California enrollment period and the April 15 deadline for filing taxes. Many Californians were unaware of the tax penalty for being uninsured in 2014 until after the February open enrollment deadline. This year’s special enrollment period allowed people who were still unaware of the tax penalty to avoid paying it in 2015—more than 33,000 of those who signed up during this period indicated that they were unaware of the tax penalty.
Even though the 2015 open enrollment period is over, there are pathways for some individuals to obtain healthcare through Covered California or Medi-Cal. For example, individuals may sign up for or change private plans within 60 days of a “life-changing event” such as getting married or having a baby. And Californians who are eligible for Medi-Cal can enroll year-round.
Looking forward, the state will continue to face the challenge of ensuring access to providers for Medi-Cal recipients. California’s reimbursement rate for providers is among the lowest in the nation, leading many doctors to turn away Medi-Cal patients. Several bills have been proposed in the state assembly and senate to raise these rates. AB 366, which would prohibit the application of existing reductions to reimbursement rates, has moved into appropriations after unanimously passing the health committee. We’ll be tracking its progress throughout the term.