More than a million Californians are expected to renew their health coverage through the Affordable Care Act this year.
“To date, upwards of 2 and a half million people have come through our doors to get coverage. It’s improving the overall health of our state and making a real difference in the lives of Californians,” Covered California Executive Director Peter V. Lee said recently. One of the first was Amber Freitas, and she’s coming back for year four. “I would have renewed no matter what,” she said.
For Freitas, having health insurance through Covered California has been life-saving. A mother of two, she was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. “I felt the lump while I was breast feeding and thought it was suspicious,” Freitas said.
That was on a Monday. Two weeks later she was on an operating table and facing an intense regimen of chemotherapy and follow up surgery. “I’m 34 years old! I never thought I would be really sick.”
While life-saving stories like Freitas’ are abundant, considerable attention is being placed on health insurance rate increases for 2017. Covered California’s average statewide increase will be 13.2 percent, up from an average 4 percent the past two years.
Freitas can understand concerns over rising health care costs, but when it comes to renewing your health coverage she said, “If you’re going to spend your money on anything how about spending on securing what’s most important. Your life!”
Meanwhile according to Lee, the bump in health insurance rates is in part due to the ending of a three-year federal program that put controls in place to limit the amount of rate increases. Even with the rate controls gone, most consumers could see a much smaller increase, or even pay less next year, if they switch to another plan. That’s where Lee expressed his belief that comparing plans side-by-side, comes in.
“Shopping is going to be more important this year than ever,” Lee said. “Almost 80 percent of our consumers will either be able to pay less than they are paying now, or see their rates go up by no more than 5 percent, if they shop and buy the lowest-cost plan at their same benefit level. That’s the power of shopping.”
If current Covered California members do not select a new plan before Dec. 15, they will automatically be renewed into their current plan and an invoice will then be sent by the health plan containing the new 2017 monthly rates. Even after being renewed, however, consumers have until the end of open enrollment, Jan. 31, to change their mind and select a different health plan.
Covered California is addressing head-on the numerous complaints it has received about not being able to find a doctor. Starting in 2017, health insurance companies must find and assign a primary care physician to Covered California consumers within 60 days of receiving payment for the first month’s premium.