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Need Health Insurance? It’s Mandatory, But You Might Find New Subsidies With Covered California

Nov 1, 2019

Open enrollment began this month for Covered California, the state’s public health insurance exchange. This year, there’s good news for low-income and even middle-class Californians.

The biggest change is a boatload of new subsidies. Over the next three years, California will spend nearly one and a half billion dollars on premium assistance for those who make as much as six times the federal poverty level—that’s up to $72,840 in annual income for an individual, or $150,600 for a family of four.

The Valley in particular will benefit, says Covered California Executive Director Peter Lee, because incomes here tend to be lower. “Across California, rates are going up about 0.8%,” he says, “but through the Central Valley, some people will see their rates dropping 10 percent or 15 percent.”

If you haven’t qualified for subsidies in the past, Lee says, try shopping around this year – you may find higher subsidies than you’ve received in previous years.

Starting in January, health insurance will be required in California, thanks to a state law instating a tax penalty for those who don’t enroll – a state version of the individual mandate the Trump Administration abolished nationally. Other changes include a longer open enrollment period than on the national exchange, and coverage through Medi-Cal for undocumented young adults up to age 26.

As many as 200,000 more people could sign up for coverage this year, and that’s a good thing, says Anthony Wright of the advocacy group Health Access California. “Our health care system is stronger when there’s more people paying into it, sharing the risk and cost of health care,” he says. “That actually helps bring premiums down for everybody.”

Californians have until December 15 to sign up for coverage beginning in January, or until the end of January for coverage starting in February.