A Rush to Get Health Insurance for 2018, Before California Deadline

Certified insurance agent for Covered California Monica Tracht (left) speaks to Marie Crinnion (right) about health insurance options.  (Laura Klivans/KQED)

The open enrollment period to get insurance through Covered California closes at midnight tonight. 

Agents like Monica Tracht are feeling the looming deadline. Tracht is a certified insurance agent for Covered California, based in San Francisco. She's spent recent nights fielding calls, at home, even past 10 p.m. At her office, she's booked back-to-back appointments, between which she accommodates walk-ins.

San Francisco insurance brokers like Tracht are logging extra hours to sign up new enrollees for Covered California in 2018. These enrollment numbers, which surpass last year's numbers, are strong — despite actions by President Trump and Congressional Republicans that have weakened the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Tracht runs a Covered California "Storefront," a permanent location  open to walk-in traffic with Covered California signage. The "Storefront" designation also means her office is prominently listed  on the health care exchange website. Tracht says that's how most of her clients find her.

"I'd advertised in a local magazine in Spanish," Tracht said, "A couple people came because of the magazine." But Tracht realized she could save her advertising money, because Covered California was promoting the health care coverage for her. "They're everywhere," she said. "The TV, the radio, the newspapers."

Sponsored

While the Trump Administration cut advertising budgets for the ACA, Covered California officials boosted their own marketing budget, to more than $100 million.

Monica Tracht used to advertise her health insurance business in a local, Spanish language magazine. But she's found she no longer needs to. Her clients find her through Covered California's own marketing efforts.
Monica Tracht used to advertise her health insurance business in a local, Spanish language magazine. But she's found she no longer needs to. Her clients find her through Covered California's own marketing efforts. (Laura Klivans/KQED)

Marie Crinnion had an appointment with Tracht the day before the deadline. Crinnion is currently enrolled in Medi-Cal, a government insurance program for low-income people, but thinks she will no longer qualify this year because her income will increase.  Crinnion's mother died recently and now, Crinnion will collect rent from a property she inherited. 

"I looked online for an actual person to be able to talk to, because my insurance situation is changing and it’s a little complicated," Crinnion said. "I wanted to be able to explain it to a live person and get advice."

Crinnion wants to avoid a lapse in coverage because she has chronic immune problems and is partially blind. After going over her options with Tracht for a half hour, she learned her income will be too high this year to qualify for any insurance subsidies offered through  Covered California. Crinnion felt she'd get a better deal by shopping outside of the Covered California exchange. She was especially interested in some of the individual plans offered by a local organization, Chinese Community Health Plan

In many other states, where consumers are using the federally-run marketplace, enrollment ended on Dec. 15. The Trump Administration shortened the enrollment period on the federal exchange from three months to six weeks. 

But all states will be affected by another new change to the ACA -- the Congressional tax bill, which removed the penalty for not having health insurance, starting in 2019.

Tracht said some consumers were a bit confused about the different deadlines, but said no one had questions about whether the penalty was still in effect. It is for 2018. 

Covered California officials are trying to accommodate last-minute sign-ups. Although the official deadline is January 31st, if consumers have started an application before midnight, but are struggling to complete it, they "will be allowed to finish the process on Thursday or Friday with a certified enroller," according to James Scullary, a spokesman for Covered California.

People who complete applications by February 2 will have coverage beginning on March 1.