New Tax-Time Enrollment in Covered California

Californians doing their taxes and realizing the tax implications of going uninsured will have a new opportunity to shop for, compare, and sign-up for health coverage through Covered California, the state’s health insurance marketplace set up under the Affordable Care Act. Starting Monday, February 23rd through April 30th, Californians will have the opportunity to sign up for coverage–during the time that many Californians will first learn the tax implications of going uninsured, when filing their taxes.

This announcement made this afternoon is close on the heels of the Obama Administration’s announcement earlier today it will re-open enrollment in the 36 states with FFM (Federally Facilitated Marketplace) exchanges (see details here: http://thehill.com/policy/healthcare/233308-administration-gives-second-chance-to-sign-up-for-obamacare).

This is the right call: Covered California should help Californians in whatever way not just avoid the tax penalty, but to take advantage of the tax subsidies available for getting the benefits of coverage. Let’s remember, the biggest financial penalty of going uninsured is not the tax penalty, but the risks of living sicker, dying younger, and being one emergency away from financial ruin.

Californians should take advantage of this new opportunity to sign up, avoid the tax assessment, and get the access to primary and preventive care and the financial security against medical debt. This new enrollment period will be good not just for those who sign-up but for insurers and their rates, since many of those who enroll will be generally healthy. Getting more Californians enrolled is good for them, but for everyone and the system as a whole.

Today’s developments remind us that the ACA is indeed a learning process for everyone–and not least for consumers, who need time adjusting to the notion that carrying insurance should be a personal responsibility so long as there are affordable options. The fact is there are affordable options, whether it’s Medi-Cal or subsidized plans, but it has taken longer than we’d like to get the word out, particularly to communities that are hard to reach.

California law permits a special enrollment period if the federal government publishes notice of “any other events” listed in title 45 Section 155.420 (d)—which says “a qualified individual demonstrates to the Exchange, in accordance with guidelines issued by HHS, that the individual meets other exceptional circumstances as the Exchange may provide.” That is precisely what took place today and what made it allowable by state law.

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