Exchange Officials Field Readiness Queries

by David Gorn

The Assembly Committee on Health this week held a hearing to determine readiness of the Covered California health benefit exchange -- just a week before open enrollment season starts.

Covered California begins enrolling Californians for health coverage Oct. 1. The enrollment period for subsidy-eligible Californians will last six months.  

"We don't need everyone to sign up on Oct. 1 itself, but we do want people to be signing up between Oct. 1 and Mar. 31," said Assembly member Richard Pan (D-Sacramento), chair of Assembly Health. "It's going to be a very important time for all of us, kicking off this tremendous opportunity for expansion of health care coverage in California."

Dozens of stakeholders gathered in a Capitol Building hearing room Monday to discuss the daunting task of getting the health insurance message out to millions of Californians.

"What we're going to hear today," Pan said, "is what's being done to get the word out, so people know about this opportunity."

Covered California executive director Peter Lee said the exchange is counting on its collaboration with community groups to help inform a difficult-to-reach population.

"Many of you, as legislators, have been working for years in the political arena to get where we are today, to have health care be a right, not a privilege," Lee said. "But now we are moving from the political arena to implementing the law of the land.

"It's a big job, it's ambitious, it's complex, and we won't succeed without the engagement of communities across California," Lee said.

That's why Covered California is working with so many community groups, Lee said, distributing $37 million in community grants earlier this year, to develop a network of helpers and facilitators.

"While legislators got the ball rolling," Lee said, "the success of the Affordable Care Act will depend not on what happens in Washington or in Sacramento, but on what happens in East LA, in Oakland, in Redding, in San Diego, in communities across the state."

Lee pointed out that the majority of people in California won't have any change in their insurance, since most Californians with insurance will keep their employee health care coverage.

What has changed, Lee said, is twofold: "Guaranteed coverage and expansion of benefits."

In addition to the essential health benefits Californians will get under exchange coverage, they will also benefit from new rules in the insurance market.

"In January 2014, insurance rules change in a big way," Lee said. "They have to take everyone. And there are new rules in the insurance market, making sure insurers spend the bulk of their money on patient care."

Consumers can start signing up for insurance with essential health benefits and lower premium rates starting Tuesday. Anyone eligible for a subsidy insurance product through the exchange must sign up during the six-month open enrollment period.  


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