Covered California has lots of success stories

January 6, 2014

By Rep. Anna G. Eshoo

Catherine Shinners of Palo Alto recently responded to a request I made of my constituents to share their stories of enrolling for health insurance using Covered California.

Catherine wrote, "On January 1, 2014, I'm going to celebrate being able to access health care services with decent health insurance for the first time in three years."

Her story is not unique.

Catherine lost her job after the economic collapse in 2008 and enrolled in COBRA health insurance. When that expired in 2010, high prices and convoluted application processes on the open market, not to mention a discriminatory search by insurers for pre-existing conditions, prevented her from obtaining affordable, quality insurance.

Catherine, now self-employed and over 50, recently enrolled in a new health insurance plan for herself and her youngest daughter using Covered California. Her premium costs half of what she was offered in 2010 and includes more coverage. Her deductibles, co-pays and other out-of-pocket costs will not bankrupt her.

More than 750,000 Californians have applied for health insurance using Covered California, many obtaining it for the first time in their lives. Others like Catherine are seeing expanded coverage, lower premiums and no more fear of being dropped by their insurer.

Millions of lower-income Americans qualify for federal subsidies or expanded Medicaid. Children, like Catherine's youngest daughter, are able to stay on a parent's plan until age 26.

I asked my constituents to tell their stories, knowing responses would be varied.

Catherine experienced initial difficulty with the Covered California website only to have an "extremely helpful" Covered California specialist assist her by phone. Improvements continue to be made to California's and the federal website, and the number of enrollees reflects this.

Executive Director of Covered California Peter Lee recently said there have been 15,000 enrollments daily.

Approximately 900,000 Californians had their existing policies canceled because they don't meet the standards of the Affordable Care Act. They're understandably upset. Last month, the regulating board of Covered California decided not to allow the extension of the canceled plans as the President requested and I supported, saying it would lead to higher insurance rates in subsequent years.

On Dec. 19 the administration issued a clarification of the law: If someone's health plan has been cancelled and they face financial difficulty paying for a new comprehensive policy, they're temporarily eligible to buy a catastrophic plan through a hardship exemption. Furthermore, Americans will not incur fines when they file taxes next year if they decline to purchase health insurance for 2014.

But let's not forget that canceled plans were subject to medical underwriting, meaning insurers could turn people away with pre-existing conditions or unfairly increase rates. This practice is no longer permitted.

While some people are experiencing rate increases -- as I did when I signed up through the DC Exchange, as Congress now does -- their new coverage comes with added benefits aimed at reducing costs. Full coverage of preventive care is now guaranteed, helping patients and doctors detect and treat illnesses earlier.

Furthermore, insurance plans for an estimated 1.9 million Californians who qualify for subsidies will almost certainly be cheaper than anything they had before.

The benefits of reform are evident and light-years away from the days when Americans faced denial of coverage and skyrocketing premiums. Covered California and the Affordable Care Act are major milestones, replacing unaffordable, unhealthy plans with quality, affordable coverage for millions of Americans.

No-nonsense assessments of the law's implementation will strengthen it. And investment in more comprehensive plans will benefit our health and bank accounts down the road.

Meanwhile, Catherine tells me she'll be helping her older daughter enroll in a new health insurance policy using Covered California.

Rep. Anna G. Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, represents the 18th Congressional District. Published in the December 26, 2013 edition of the San Jose Mercury News.