Covered California executives are considering an extra enrollment window for those who missed the deadline to buy 2015 health insurance so they can avoid a tax penalty.
The agency is following the federal government’s lead. The White House has said it is considering such a move for those who sign up through healthcare.gov.
The potential extension is being driven by several members of Congress who argue, that some Americans will not realize they owe until they do their taxes, and by then it will be too late to get health insurance. Penalties for not having insurance in 2015 are $325 dollar per adult or two percent of income, whichever is greater.
Covered California Executive Director Peter Lee said his agency will decide within the next couple of weeks whether to create a special enrollment period.
The agency is in discussion with the Franchise Tax Board about the potential extension, Lee said, adding that during his trips around the state he saw many people who wanted to sign up after doing their taxes and learning they owed a penalty for 2014.
"This is the first year that when they complete their taxes they are being asked if they have coverage or not," Lee said. "There are still Californians who are not aware of the penalties."
The only downside of opening up another enrollment window, Lee said, "is that Californians might think these deadlines don’t matter."
As of Sunday, the original deadline, Covered California said 474,000 people had signed up for individual health insurance. Those who began an application by that day have until Sunday Feb. 22 to complete it. The final deadline was extended to match the federal government's deadline for enrollment across the country.
"With this surge in momentum, we expect more than 500,000 people will enroll in a health plan through Covered California during this open-enrollment period," said Lee.
Those who began the process must work with a certified agent or a counselor, or call the helpline to finish their enrollment, Lee said. And those who tried but were unable to begin the application can also see an agent or call the helpline to register.
Overall enrollees now tally 1.4 million, including the new members and those who re-enrolled, according to Covered California. At the end of 2013 Lee said there were 1.1 million enrollees, 85,000 transitioned to Medi-Cal and others were lost to expected churn as they move into employer-provided healthcare or private plans bought outside of Covered California.
Lee said nearly 780,000 people signed up for Medi-Cal during this latest open enrollment period, which began last Nov. 15.