Once Again, Californians Looking to Enroll in Obamacare

Jorge Rodriguez suffers from diabetes. But he doesn’t have health insurance, so Rodriguez must constantly visit a doctor for checkups and medicines.

Last year, Rodriguez didn’t sign up for the medical plans available through the Affordable Health Plan (commonly known as “Obamacare”), instead relying on the Outpatient Reduced-Cost Simplified Application (ORSA) program offered through the Los Angeles County Health Services Department for his clinic visits.

“I had ORSA at Mid-Valley (clinic), but they told me I could no longer use it for my diabetes checkups,” he said.

Last Saturday, Nov. 22, Rodriguez showed up with all his documentation at a health insurance fair organized by U.S. Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-29th District) at Branford Park in Arleta. Apart from the booths of various county and city services departments, there were representatives from different medical insurance providers, and certified enrollers, who could help with the medical insurance applications.

“I missed the chance to sign up last year because I didn’t submit my application on time. I was afraid I was going to get charged (by the IRS), and I have diabetes so I need to get checkups,” explained Rodriguez, who signed up for one of the medical plans offered through the state medical insurance marketplace, Covered California.

“I got a platinum plan. I’m going to pay $45 per person, but at least I’ll be covered,” he said.

The second phase of enrollment under Obamacare began on Nov. 15 and runs through Feb. 15, 2015. There could be a minimum $95 penalty (or 1 percent of annual income) for those who can but don’t sign up for medical coverage under the government plan. Obamacare offers subsidized plans depending on income.

Last year, Cardenas’ staff helped enroll more than 1,000 Valley families in health insurance policies, and this year they want to improve on that figure.

“We know a lot of people in the community don’t have the time or can’t go to someone to sign up, so we’re bringing the services to them,” said Kenny LaSalle, representing Cardenas.

“We’re trying to provide a service to the San Fernando Valley community and trying to bring all resources to them so they can get educated and actually sign up for health insurance,” LaSalle added.

Registration Off To A Strong Start

According to Covered California, nearly 70,000 people submitted applications for health covered, including Medi-Cal, during the first four days of the second phase of enrollment.

“We had a strong start when we opened [Nov. 15]  for Covered California, and we are continuing to see tremendous interest from people seeking security for themselves and their families in both Covered California plans and Medi-Cal coverage,” Covered California Executive Director Peter V. Lee said in a statement released last week.

 As of Nov. 18, about 35,877 consumers were determined eligible for coverage through Covered California, and 11,357 picked a plan. By comparison, in October 2013 it took 15 days to reach 10,972 plan selections.

About 33,368 applicants were deemed to be likely eligible for Medi-Cal from Nov. 15 to Nov. 18. So far in 2014, Medi-Cal has enrolled more than 2.2 million Californians.

Covered California anticipates a total enrollment of 1.7 million Californians — excluding Medi-Cal enrollees — by the end of the second open-enrollment period: 1.5 million in subsidized coverage, and 230,000 in unsubsidized coverage.

While previously reserved to people with children, the California’s health program for the poor was expanded to include low-income adults who don’t have children.

However, many people remain skeptical or don’t know much about the plans, said Laura Palomares of Youth Speak Collective, an organization that seeks to educate people on services available to them.

“It’s the biggest health [insurance plan] overall in 40 years and people are still confused by all of this,” Palomares said. “But I tell people ‘you’re going to get billed if you don’t enroll.’”

Palomares also tells people not to do this over the phone or online, but instead in-person with a person certified to enroll them.

That’s what Norma Kroell was doing at the health fair in Arleta on Nov. 22.

Last year she signed up via the Internet and scheduled her payments online. But the Web site never allowed her to make those payments.

So even though she was signed up, Kroell was never able to receive medical services. Now her income has changed, and she must re-register because she qualifies for Medi-Cal instead of a subsidized plan.

Kroell’s never had medical insurance and the only way previously to get medical services was going to Tijuana, Mexico.

“It’s cheaper there. I had no other way,” Kroell said.

But now she’s hoping she won’t have to do that anymore.