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Covered California extends enrollment period after ‘ridiculous’ court decision

Peter Lee, second left, the executive director of Covered California, poses with enrollees in the state-run health insurance exchange, in front of Los Angeles City Hall, Nov. 14, 2014.
Peter Lee, second left, the executive director of Covered California, poses with enrollees in the state-run health insurance exchange, in front of Los Angeles City Hall, Nov. 14, 2014. NYT

People have until Friday to sign up for health coverage to begin Jan. 1, thanks to an extension granted by the state-run health exchange.

Covered California gave consumers another week for enrollment after a federal judge’s ruling on the Affordable Care Act last week. Judge Reed O’Connor of the U.S. District Court in Texas declared the entire health reform law is unconstitutional because of the original mandate requiring individuals to have insurance.

A year ago, Congress passed legislation that eliminates the ACA’s penalty for the uninsured, starting in 2019, which has led to projections that California’s progress in shrinking the uninsured population would be reversed.

State Attorney General Xavier Becerra is expected to appeal O’Connor’s ruling; any effects on coverage for consumers will be delayed as appeals are heard in the courts. Millions of California residents would lose coverage if the ruling is eventually upheld and it would gut protections for consumers, who historically faced coverage denials based on pre-existing health conditions.

“This completely ridiculous court decision, if upheld, would be catastrophic for our health system,” Anthony Wright, director of Health Access California, said in a news release. “We can’t let one right-wing judge in Texas undo all the coverage expansions and consumer protections that voters just resoundingly endorsed in the last election.”

Covered California continued the enrollment opportunity for a week out of concern people might be discouraged or confused by the court ruling in Texas. A fall enrollment period closed Saturday for most of the nation. The California exchange also said it witnessed a surge in enrollment in what was supposed to be the final week for enrolling in coverage beginning Jan. 1.

According to a press release, Covered California helped 58,000 people with signups last week. The exchange said it brought in almost 180,000 new enrollees this fall in addition to the 1.2 million Californians who renewed coverage, though enrollments are reportedly down somewhat from a year ago.

Covered California offers a variety of health plans through Anthem Blue Cross, Blue Shield of California, Kaiser Permanente and HealthNet in Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties and provides more limited choices in Merced County. A vast majority of the customers in the region use tax credits to reduce their monthly premiums.

“We have seen tens of thousands of people flood into Covered California over the past week, and we want to make sure that everyone can start the new year off right by being covered,” said Peter Lee, executive director of Covered California.

After Friday’s deadline for coverage starting New Year’s Day, people have until Jan. 15 to sign up for coverage beginning Feb. 1.

The health plans can be reviewed at www.CoveredCA.com. For customer service, call (800) 300-1506.

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