Health

Covered California extends deadline to buy health insurance, again

On Friday, Covered California Executive Director Peter Lee gave Californians until April 30 to sign up for health coverage through the state's online marketplace, as long as they attest that they were not aware they would face a tax penalty for not having coverage.
On Friday, Covered California Executive Director Peter Lee gave Californians until April 30 to sign up for health coverage through the state's online marketplace, as long as they attest that they were not aware they would face a tax penalty for not having coverage.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC

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Two days before the final deadline to buy health coverage through Covered California for 2015, the agency has extended its deadline yet again -  this time to April 30.

The state-run health insurance marketplace had already extended the Feb. 15 deadline twice, first to Feb. 20, then to Feb. 22. This latest extension, however, is only available to people who attest on their applications that they were not aware they would face a tax penalty for not buying coverage, said Peter V. Lee, Covered California's executive director.

Lee told reporters Friday that many Californians may only be realizing they face a penalty as they file their taxes for 2014, which is the first year that there was a requirement to have health coverage.

While there's no way for most of those people to avoid a fine on their 2014 taxes, the agency wants to give them more time to avoid one when they file their 2015 taxes next year. At that time, the penalty will double, to at least 2 percent of household income.

Lee said his agency will give people who say they weren't aware of the penalty "the benefit of the doubt," and therefore will not be verifying their claims.

He estimates the extension could benefit between 300,ooo to 600,000 Californians who have yet to buy insurance and therefore face a penalty.

Lee acknowledged that many may be choosing to pay the tax penalty because it's cheaper than buying insurance. But he urged people to reconsider that thinking.

"The far bigger penalty than writing a check to the IRS," Lee said, "is the penalty that you incur by going uninsured, skipping needed care, not getting preventive services, not having that cancer found early, meaning that you can live healthier and keep your family healthy."

Those who wish to take advantage of the extension can begin signing up on Monday.