There has been no shortage of bad stories about the flawed rollout of the federal government’s website, healthcare.gov. These problems have been an enormous inconvenience for many uninsured Americans trying to purchase an affordable, quality health-care plan, and the Obama administration must spare no effort to get the site fixed, and get it fixed now.
But fortunately, here in California, we are having a very different experience because our state wisely decided to set up its own website — CoveredCA.com — for its citizens to get insurance coverage, and it is working.
For mostly shortsighted political reasons, some 30 states decided otherwise and turned this responsibility over to the federal government. Their citizens are now dealing with healthcare.gov’s difficulties, and if I lived in Texas or Florida I would be asking my state legislators and governors to explain that decision.
But in California, CoveredCA.com simply is not experiencing the blank screens or long waits one sees on the federal website. To the contrary, more than 2.2 million unique visits have been made to the website. And 150,000 people have called the Covered California hotline since it’s been open. These numbers highlight the importance of this new marketplace — and the law — to so many of our friends and neighbors.
To date, more than 125,000 applications have been filed by Californians who will finally be able to have affordable, high-quality health care. And while that’s only a fraction of the people without insurance in the state, the experience in Massachusetts when the state moved to universal healthcare a few years ago shows that enrollment picks up markedly as the weeks progress and sign-up deadlines get closer. That’s because most people will visit the website repeatedly to determine what health-care option is best for them and their family. This is in line with how we make other important decisions for our families.
In addition, more than 600,000 lower-income working-class Californians without health insurance coverage have already signed up for Medi-Cal coverage under the expansion of Medicaid made possible by the same Affordable Care Act (ACA) that has brought us CoveredCA.com. This is another way that California is leveraging the law — and federal resources — to strengthen the fiscal and physical health of our communities.
When the ACA is fully implemented next year, the number of uninsured Californians is expected to decrease by up to 95 percent. Ensuring all our citizens have coverage does not just mean better health care for millions of our fellow citizens; it also means that the cost of uncompensated care provided by hospitals, health clinics, and doctors will no longer be passed on to the rest of us through higher health insurance prices as is the case today.
The second thing to note is that the websites are only one part of the ACA law that has already improved the plans of tens of millions more who already have insurance and helped millions of uninsured people get coverage.
For example, the ACA ends many abusive health insurance industry practices that hurt people who already have health insurance. It means no arbitrary lifetime or annual coverage limits on care, or being dropped from your plan if you get “too sick.” It also means you can’t be denied coverage because you have a preexisting condition like a previous bout with skin cancer or your child’s asthma. Simply put, it gives us all the peace of mind that we are no longer just one diagnosis away from financial ruin because you — or your child — gets sick or has a bad accident.
The ACA also has let millions of young adults stay on their parents’ insurance until age 26. And it promotes wellness instead of just treating sickness by making proven preventive health services, like birth control, vaccines, and cancer screenings, available with no co-pays or deductibles for all Americans. And all health-care plans must cover 10 essential benefits like prescription drugs, lab tests, hospital visits, and mental health services, so you know your plan’s cost is worth it.
And the benefits of the ACA right here on the Central Coast are clear: 11,000 young adults now have health insurance through their parents’ plan; 113,000 seniors are now eligible for Medicare no-cost preventive services; and about 36,000 children with preexisting conditions can no longer be denied coverage.
The next few months are a critical time for the ACA and CoveredCA.com. To have coverage starting January 2014, you need to complete enrollment by mid-December. Open enrollment closes on March 31, 2014, and if you don’t purchase health insurance by then, you will not have access to all the insurance options and financial assistance available to you.
The Covered California website is full of helpful information, and you can get answers by visiting CoveredCA.com or calling 1 (800) 300-1506. They welcome your questions.
Health insurance is complicated — in fact, our nation has always delivered it in a rather complicated way. But the ACA will address a lot of the gaps in our current system, and I encourage you to visit CoveredCA.com and see what it has to offer.
Lois Capps represents San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Counties and part of Ventura County in the U.S. House of Representatives.