Health care enrollment season began this week

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Open enrollment for Covered California began on Nov. 1 and ends on Jan. 31, 2017. Existing Covered California clients were mailed renewal notices during the first week of October.

If an enrollee wants their health coverage to begin Jan.1, 2017, they must choose a plan and enroll by Dec. 15.

Individuals with special qualifying life events can enroll at any time of the year, according to the covered California press release. Medi-Cal enrollment also is year-round. Medi-Cal and Covered California use the same application. After you enter your information, you will find out whether you qualify for Medi-Cal or Covered California.

Recently, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that the number of uninsured individuals in California has dropped continuously since the Affordable Care Act was implemented in 2014. The percentage of uninsured state residents has fallen from 17.2 percent in 2013 to 8.6 percent in 2015. In California, the uninsured population has declined 50 percent.

Sylvia Mathews Burwell, secretary of the U.S. Health and Human Services, estimated that the average number of enrollees would be about 11.4 million individuals during 2017, about a 9-percent increase from 2016’s average monthly enrollment.

This estimate is more optimistic than private-sector estimates, which predict that the reduced number of offerings in many areas and higher premiums will discourage more individuals than previous years.

“This year, consumers can visit CoveredCA.com to explore their options for coverage in 2017,” Peter V. Lee, executive director of Covered California, said in the release. “Most of those renewing with us get subsidies that mean they are paying only a portion of the premium. But even without considering the subsidy, nearly 80 percent of our consumers will either be able to pay less than they are paying now for health insurance, or see their rates go up by no more than 5 percent if they shop and switch to another plan.”

Almost all consumers (92.6 percent) will have at least three insurers to choose from in their region, and none will have fewer than two. Also, more than 93 percent of hospitals in California will be available through at least one health insurance company in 2017, and 74 percent will be available in three or more plans, according to Covered California’s release.

The statewide weighted-average change will be 13.2 percent, up from 4 percent in 2016 and 4.2 percent in 2015. Inland Empire plans will increase an average of 10 percent compared to 1 percent last year.

However, most consumers will see a much smaller increase — or pay less next year — if they switch to another plan. In the Inland Empire, the growth of the lowest-priced bronze and silver plan is about half the statewide average.

This year, Covered California has improved its shopping tool. Current enrollees will be able to compare their current plan benefits and 2017 premiums side-by-side with other plans for 2017.

Also, the new Shop-and-Compare tool’s new-offers feature includes displaying health and dental plans separately, showing up to 12 product options on a page instead of three and offering more ways to filter plan choices for the consumer.

Covered California recommends that members who want to evaluate their plan and options visit CoveredCA.com and sign into their account. Consumers who take no action by Dec. 15, will be automatically renewed into their existing plan. Consumers can also contact their Certified Insurance Agent or Certified Enrollment Counselor, or call Covered California at 800-300-1506 for enrollment or renewal assistance, according to the release.

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