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Enrollment Deadline Sunday for Covered California Health Insurance Exchange

With Sunday the deadline for open enrollment plans through the Covered California health insurance exchange, local experts are urging those still uninsured to sign up before then or risk a substantial fine.

Covered California is the state-run exchange where insurance can be purchased during open enrollment periods each year. 

The exchange was set up as a result of the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, which began coverage in January 2014 and requires people to have health insurance or pay a fine.


Bob Hopper, who has run Bob Hopper Insurance Services in Santa Barbara since 1991, said that last year saw a large influx of people applying for insurance, many of whom had been denied coverage in the past.

"It was really a scramble to keep up with everything," he said.

This year has been much slower, though things were picking up this week because of Sunday's deadline.

Hopper's business helps those wanting to use an in-person agent to help them sign up for insurance, and also helps clients with billing and the claims process.

For people who didn't have insurance in 2014, they'll have to pay a $95 fine for each adult and $47.50 for each child, with a maximum of $285 per family, or 1 percent of their income, whichever is greater, at tax time.

The person could find a bite has been taken out of their refund check if they haven't already paid the fine.

For those who do not sign up for insurance this year, the fines will be even greater next year, Hopper said. Those who have not signed up for insurance in 2015, they will be fined $325 per adult and $162.50 for each child with a maximum of $975 per family or 2 percent of income, whichever is greater, at tax time in 2016.

This is the first year that the Internal Revenue Service is asking for people to file a proof of insurance for with their tax documentation — a 1095 form — that is required if the person used the exchange to sign up for insurance.

Terry DiMizio, program coordinator for the benefits and referrals center with Santa Barbara County Public Health, said people should start the enrollment process by midnight of Feb. 15, and will have until Feb. 20 to complete the process with a certified enrollment counselors, which can be found on the Covered California website.

People can also call the county's benefits and referrals center with questions at 805.681.5393.

"The big message we want people to know is that Medi-Cal enrollment is available year round. Come in now, we're here to help," she said.

Medi-Cal is health insurance coverage based on income, and people qualify if they make 138 percent of the federal poverty level, about $32,913 for a family of four. More income qualifications can be found by clicking here.

If people sign up to meet with a certified enrollment counselor, they should budget about an hour for the appointment, but that could take longer based on the person's situation.

"Some people have never had health insurance, so we're having to educate them on the plans," she said.

Public Health uses each appointment with patients to ask if they are insured and if not, why not. They've also been doing outreach to the homeless and those with limited English proficiency to sign those who qualify up for Medi-Cal.

Maria Gardner, deputy director of economic assistance for the Department of Social Services, said signups have been slower than last year "but still busier than normal."

The county has enrolled more than 30,000 patients in Medi-Cal since November 2013, already exceeding its three- to five-year goal.

Open enrollment last year was six months, and this year is only three.

Over 16,000 people were enrolled in Covered California during the first enrollment period, and the county is seeing less than half of that this year.

Medi-Cal sign-ups are still seeing about a 7 percent increase, however.

"We're still seeing that our business is still growing," Gardner said, adding that there are 31 sites in the county where people can enroll with hundreds of eligibility workers.

She cautioned that though a $95 fine may not sound like much to people avoiding insurance, 1 percent of someone making $40,000 a year could add up to almost $600.

"It's the percent of income that people need to look at," she said.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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