by Malcolm Macdonald, November 27, 2013
Open enrollment for health insurance under the Affordable Health Care Act began on October 1st. Anthem Blue Cross, California’s largest for-profit health insurance company, sent out notices of open enrollment that didn’t reach many customers until November. A typical mailing from Anthem started out with wording like this: “Thank you for choosing Anthem Blue Cross Life and Health Insurance for your individual health coverage.”
If we each had a dollar for every time a huge corporation uses the phony four word phrase, “Thank you for choosing,” we’d all be able to afford high quality health insurance.
The Anthem letters go on to state the absurdly obvious, “As you may have heard in the news, key requirements of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will be effective in January 2014. People are talking more about state marketplaces created by the ACA, including Covered California, which offers an Open Enrollment period from October 1, 2013 through March 31, 2014.” The letterhead for this particular mailing said October 30, 2013 — 30 days after the enrollment process began. By the time the addressee received the mailing only six weeks remained before the December 15th enrollment deadline that makes sure your health insurance kicks in promptly on January 1, 2014.
The tardy Anthem letter went on to inform: “Because of the requirements of the new laws, we can no longer offer your current individual health benefit plan and you will need to change to an ACA compliant health benefit plan, which will become effective January 1, 2014.”
Many thousands of California’s individual health insurance consumers are in a similar boat to the Anthem letter recipient cited above. The December 15th deadline means that you must choose a new insurance plan in the next six weeks or else.
Or else what? In the case followed above, Anthem assures the consumer that “We will move you to a new suggested Anthem plan.” In this case that means a monthly raise in rates of 91%. In dollars and cents, that would mean an increase of more than $2,600 per year.
When the federal government found out about the tardy letters, the President issued a directive that would allow those insurance consumers who received the letters to continue in their same plans through March of 2014. However, on November 21st, Covered California rejected that offer, meaning the deadline for Californians who need to shift plans is still December 15th in order to make sure your new health care plan will be effective on Jan. 1, 2014.
The good news is this: Covered California appears to be running much more smoothly than the federal counterpart. The consumer cited herein went online to coveredca.com where its phone number, 800-300-1506, is easily seen. When calling during midday you will be told to expect a wait time of a half hour. Our caller’s first attempt was dropped after about 15 minutes. A second call was answered after only a 15-minute wait, something approximating a wash.
With the verbal assistance of a Covered California agent, navigating the Covered California website to fill out applications online becomes much easier; without the Covered California agent, not so simple. The online application process may take as much as an hour (there are five security questions alone to answer, such as color of your first pet, name of your oldest niece, etc.).
Further good news for the consumer followed by River Views was that through Covered California the consumer’s current health insurance costs would be cut more than in half. This is due to the Affordable Health Care Act and Covered California providing subsidies based on annual income (home ownership, property or other possessions do not factor into the subsidy equation). In the case followed by River Views, the consumer, who would not qualify for MediCal, will actually have a slightly better Anthem Blue Cross policy, but more than 80% of that policy will be underwritten by Covered California and the Affordable Care Act.
The success of the health care law and the Covered California healthcare exchange is enrolling enough healthy young people to subsidize older, sicker enrollees. So, another bit of good news is that 18-34 year olds in California are enrolling at a slightly higher than per capita rate.