Covered California: Many uninsured still unaware of financial help

Covered California Executive Director Peter Lee
Covered California Executive Director Peter Lee
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For the past two years, many Californians have been eligible for financial help to offset the cost of health insurance, but a study released Thursday finds more than one third of the state's uninsured are still unaware of this fact, according to Peter Lee, executive director of the state's health insurance marketplace, Covered California.

The findings, by the University of Chicago's National Opinion Research Center, are "big news," said Lee, noting that they underscore the need for his agency to return to basics when informing Californians about health insurance during the third open-enrollment period under the Affordable Care Act. 

Open enrollment begins on Nov. 1 and lasts through Jan. 31, 2016.  

The researchers found 36 percent of uninsured Californians don't understand that federal tax subsidies to offset the monthly cost of insurance are available to eligible consumers.  The survey, conducted for Covered California, randomly sampled about 2,200 legal state residents aged 18 to 34. 

In response to the survey's finding, Covered California will be targeting its new ad campaign on the basics of health insurance, with an emphasis on the financial assistance available to eligible consumers, said Lee.

"The most important thing to help a consumer buy health insurance is that subsidy," he said.

The Affordable Care Act requires most Americans to get health insurance or face a tax penalty. That penalty increases in 2016 to either $695 per adult ($347.15 per child under 18) or 2.5 percent of a family's taxable income, whichever is greater. 

Of the 4 million uninsured Californians, about 2 million are in the U.S. illegally and thus are not eligible either for subsidies through Covered California or for low- to no-cost Medi-Cal coverage, Lee said.  Medi-Cal will be available to unauthorized immigrants under 19 beginning next May, under a law signed by Gov. Jerry Brown earlier this month.

Dec. 15  is the last day to buy coverage that takes effect beginning Jan. 1, 2016.