There are two weeks left for people to get health insurance without a tax penalty, and the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department is teaming up with libraries to boost enrollment in Covered California exchange plans and Medi-Cal.
The Public Health Department has been giving free consultations to patients at its health centers and will host walk-in sessions at Santa Barbara public libraries this week.
The more people who get insurance, the better it is for the cost and welfare of the overall community, public information officer Susan Klein-Rothschild said.
March 31 is the deadline for Covered California’s open enrollment or for getting other insurance coverage without a tax penalty. For 2014, penalties will be $95 or 1 percent of the person’s gross income, whichever is greater.
Federal enrollment targets are short of the targets, but the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services expects a surge as the deadline approaches based on the patterns of other health-care programs.
The county is expecting the same thing, with many more people signing up in the next two weeks.
Public Health employees have assisted 4,000 people and enrolled 2,400 people in Medi-Cal or Covered California health plans since Jan. 1, which is an improvement from the effort’s slow start.
“A lot of people are procrastinators by nature, and not just with taxes, we’re finding out,” Klein-Rothschild said.
In California, 868,936 people signed up and 88 percent of people got financial assistance with their plans. Nationally, 83 percent of people got exchange plans with financial assistance.
Among California residents who signed up, 26 percent are between ages 18 and 34, which is a target demographic for health-care coverage. Most individuals signed up for the Covered California silver plan, which has the second-lowest monthly premium rates for insurance coverage.
Santa Barbara County is also working to get people signed up for Medi-Cal, which has no deadline. The expanded rules will stay in place and the Health Care Centers will have staff available to help people sign up, Klein-Rothschild said.
More than half of the county’s deaths are from chronic diseases, so Public Health leaders are focusing on improving access to preventive care.
In Noozhawk’s Safety Net series, Public Health director Dr. Takashi Wada said the uninsured often delay or forgo health care altogether, which leads to preventable illness and premature years of life lost.
Without preventive or maintenance care, people end up in the emergency room with advanced conditions, he said. The county’s goal is to reduce the number of uninsured by a significant amount, from 70,000 to 20,000 people.
There will be walk-in sessions at the Central Library at 40 E. Anapamu St. this Tuesday from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. in the Faulkner Gallery; from 5 to 8 p.m. Thursday in the Carpinteria Library at 5141 Carpinteria Ave.; and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday in the Martin Luther King Room of the Eastside Library at 1102 E. Montecito St.
Residents need to bring essential documentation related to identity, income and legal residency to their appointments or walk-in sessions. They don’t need to be a Public Health patient to schedule a free appointment or attend a walk-in session. Bilingual enrollment counselors will help people complete the online application at each of the library events, reference librarian Brent Field said.
Only two insurance companies serve Santa Barbara County under the Covered California exchange, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield. The Sansum Clinic system won't accept Blue Shield insurance plans through the exchange. Sansum Clinic providers are out-of-network for all Blue Shield individual plans, both through the exchange and off-exchange (plans sold directly through brokers and insurance companies).
Any questions about the health care sign-up sessions can be addressed to the Central Library reference desk at 805.564.5604.
To schedule an appointment with an enrollment counselor, contact one of the county’s Health Care Centers.
» Carpinteria Health Care Center — 805.560.1050
» Franklin Health Care Center — 805.568.2099
» Santa Barbara Health Care Center — 805.681.5488
» Lompoc Health Care Center — 805.737.6400
» Santa Maria Health Care Center — 805.346.7230