By Rory O’Sullivan
Your chance to enroll in the Covered California health insurance marketplace and avoid paying paying thousands in tax penalties is less than a week away.
More than one million Californians have signed up for the marketplace with nearly 85,000 from Riverside and 66,000 from San Bernardino Counties.
“The scope of change underway in our health care system is dramatic, and it is affecting people in powerful ways,” said Covered CA Executive Director Peter Lee. “All over the state, I am meeting people who tell me extraordinary stories about how coverage resulted in them getting life-changing and life-saving care.”
Anayeli Bermudez, 26, and her sister Abilene Bermudez, 23, who both have not had health insurance since 18 are looking forward to receiving preventative care.
“To make sure everything is fine,” said Anayeli.
Before if sick, the sisters would avoid risking an expensive doctor bill choosing instead rest and sleep until they felt better.
Backers have said that this was their original intent when President Barack Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law in March of 2010. Getting young people to get regular doctor visits so they don’t land in emergency rooms leaving taxpayers to foot the bill.
There still are issues in getting black and brown people to get insurance. Only 28 percent Latinos and 3 percent of African-Americans are getting health insurance in comparison to their white and Asian counterparts.
“The main obstacle is the trust in whose giving them the information,” said Riverside Black Chamber director, Ellary Bhimji, who has been commissioned by Covered CA to sign up participants. “We have to make an effort to get those communities in here so we can explain to them the benefits of coverage.”
The RCCBC distributed information about the exchange to every student in Riverside Unified School District. Bhimji said parents took notice and they’ve been able to sign up more people for health insurance.
“When we look at people who are working in jobs that have traditionally not had good health insurance, jobs in retail, fast food and construction, typically say ‘how much it’s going to cost me,” said Bhimji. “What they don’t know is screenings are free, immunizations are free, preventative medicine is free and we have plans that cost nothing out of pocket.”
Anayeli is one of those who qualified for Medi-Cal resulting in free health insurance and she is not alone, nearly nine out of every 10 enrollees received some level of financial help in 2014. The estimated average amount received for a year’s coverage was more than $5,200 per household according to Lee.
Anayeli and Abilene heard about how easy it was to get coverage from a friend.
“I figured why not,” said Anayeli.
One reason why someone should get coverage is that there is a tax penalty that takes effect this year. The Affordable Care Act’s, “shared responsibility fee,” is $325 per person in a household or 2 percent of their income, whichever is greater in 2015.
“A family of four making the median household income in Riverside County will pay about $1,300 in tax penalties next year if they don’t have health coverage,” said tax preparer Michelle Fico.
And there is the cost to California’s bottom line. The federal government pays for Medi-Cal recipients under the Affordable Care Act, but the state is still responsible for as much as half the cost.
Also premiums are still going up an average of 4.2 percent next year and aren’t expected to come down anytime soon.
Still Anayeli and her sister are glad to have the access to health care.
“It feels good you know,” said Anayeli.