Open enrollment is here, that time of year when you can make changes to or purchase health insurance for you and your family - whether you're Medicare eligible, purchasing insurance through your employer, or purchasing it on your own through a broker or the Covered California insurance exchange.
More than 2 million Californians have enrolled in a Covered California health plan since the state-run insurance marketplace opened for business in January 2014. Designed for individuals and families in need of more affordable health coverage, Covered California's open enrollment period began Nov. 1 and will end on Jan. 31, 2017. For coverage to start on Jan. 1, 2017, you must renew by Dec. 15, 2016.
Michael Byrd, chief business development officer for Sharp Health Plan — one of a dozen companies that offer health insurance through Covered California — answers some of the most common questions consumers have about choosing health insurance through the state-sponsored exchange.
How do I know if I am eligible for health insurance through Covered California?
The best way for individuals and families to find out if they are eligible is to visit the Covered California website or contact a health plan on the exchange. Eligibility and costs are based on household income and size of household. You can also find out if you qualify for Medi-Cal or another assistance program.
What factors should be considered when choosing a health plan?
First and foremost, you should look at the quality of the health plan. Covered California has a four-star rating system with four stars as the top rating. Also, you should look at plan options that are easy to see through Covered California's " Shop and Compare" tool.
You should also consider your health needs. Plans on the Covered California exchange are arranged in four tiers (Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum). If you are healthy and do not visit the doctor too often, a Silver or Bronze plan may be best because they carry lower monthly premiums but higher out-of-pocket costs when accessing care. If you see a doctor more often, then a Platinum or Gold plan will likely be best for you because they have lower costs when accessing care.
What other advice would you give to someone shopping for health insurance through Covered California?
Covered California officials recently released a study that showed while many Californians are aware of the insurance program, more than one-third of those surveyed weren't aware that financial help is available to purchase a plan (pending income eligibility). Anyone applying for a plan should check to see if they meet the criteria.
Also, if you are currently uninsured, it's important to find out how you can get coverage and avoid the federal health care tax penalty.