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Your Health
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Santa Barbara County Public Health Kicks Off Covered California Health Insurance Enrollment

Eligible residents can apply for 2017 Covered California plans through Jan. 31; premiums expected to rise by 15.8 percent for Central Coast residents

Sansum Clinic providers will continue to be out-of-network for Blue Shield plans purchased through Covered California. Click to view larger
Sansum Clinic providers will continue to be out-of-network for Blue Shield plans purchased through Covered California.  (Sam Goldman / Noozhawk photo)

The Santa Barbara County Public Health Department is marking Covered California’s fourth open-enrollment period with a kickoff event Friday where attendees can receive help signing up for healthcare coverage.

The 2017 enrollment period for California’s health insurance marketplace, set up in the model of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, began Tuesday and will run until Jan. 31.

The Public Health Department’s event, from 11 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. at the Santa Barbara Health Care Center at 345 Camino del Remedio, will host representatives from the department, all nine county healthcare centers and Covered California.

Attendees can receive help with the enrollment process, or have their health coverage questions answered by local healthcare experts.

For the first time under the Affordable Care Act, average premiums will rise by double digits.

The 39 states using the federal-run exchange will see an average rise of 25 percent in 2017, while California will undergo a 13.2-percent average hike.

In the exchange’s Central Coast region, which comprises Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and Ventura counties, premiums are slated to rise 15.8 percent — a weighted average across all plans and consumers, according to Covered California’s 2017 rate booklet.

The Central Coast region currently has two widely-used providers, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, whose premiums are expected to rise, on average, 13.8 and 20 percent, respectively.

Both currently provide insurance only through preferred provider organizations, or PPOs, but starting in 2017, Blue Shield will begin offering insurance through health maintenance organizations, or HMOs, in parts of the region.

Kaiser Permanente will also be offering HMOs in parts of the Tri-County area with rates 5.5 percent higher than 2016 rates, on average, according to the 2017 rate guide. 

Eighty-four percent of the region’s Covered California consumers have the lowest-priced bronze and silver plans, which will see a regional increase of 2.3 and 1.3 percent next year, respectively, according to the guide.

Like previous years, Blue Shield coverage, one of the two options for Santa Barbara County residents buying insurance through Covered California, won't be accepted at Sansum Clinic, which operates 23 primary care, specialty and urgent care clinics on the South Coast. 

Sansum Clinic providers continue to be in-network providers for Anthem Blue Cross individual plans sold on the Covered California exchange for the Central Coast region.

Sansum spokeswoman Jill Fonte said the organization was unsuccessful in reaching an agreement that includes Blue Shield plans in the Covered California network.

"We suggest that patients specifically verify with Blue Shield if their provider is in the network for which they are signing up, as it can be very confusing for patients," she said in an email.

Sansum Clinic does have an agreement with Blue Shield for some HMO and PPO plans, mostly employer-based group plans, Fonte noted. 

The Affordable Care Act also included a Medi-Cal expansion and earlier this year, undocumented children 19 and under in California became eligible for full-scope Medi-Cal coverage, including an estimated 3,000-4,000 children in Santa Barbara County.

Many of these children were enrolled in limited Medi-Cal plans or the state’s Healthy Kids programs, local health insurance programs that cover children who weren't eligible for public programs due to immigration status or family income level.

Noozhawk staff writer Sam Goldman 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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