Midnight Wednesday is Deadline for 2018 Covered California Plans

As Wednesday’s midnight deadline approaches to enroll in a 2018 healthcare plan under the Affordable Care Act, health insurance broker Jonathan Greer is fielding calls from harried consumers buying policies at the last minute.

He’s noticed, however, that many people are still confused about a recent change to the healthcare law that affects individuals.

The Republican-led tax reform bill that passed last month included a repeal of the tax penalty linked to the Obamacare requirement that almost every American have health insurance — or be fined.

But that tax repeal doesn’t start until 2019; the penalty is still in place for 2018, and any adult who doesn’t have health insurance this year will be fined $695 next year — the same penalty for any adult who did not have health insurance in 2017.

“I don’t think people realize what they are risking and that the mandate is still in force,’’ said Greer, who owns Rockridge Health Benefits. “They think they don’t have to worry about it this year, but they do.’’

Oakland resident Christopher Koch thought that was the case — until the accountant took a tax class that clarified the matter.

“I was confused myself — and it wasn’t just me,’’ he said Monday. “I had some clients calling me to ask about that.’’

Not that the 32-year-old Koch was going to risk going uninsured. Even though he rarely goes to his doctor, Koch realizes how quickly his life could change if he ended up in the hospital uninsured, facing hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical bills — and potential bankruptcy.

For 2018, he bought a $290 unsubsidized bronze level plan with Kaiser Permanente.

Peter Lee, executive director of Covered California, the state’s health insurance market established under Obamacare, is traveling by bus around the state to publicize the Wednesday enrollment deadline — and the chances people take if they remain uninsured.

“You think, ‘Oh, I can go without insurance,’ and then something happens to you, and all of a sudden, you’re in debt,” Lee said.

So far, he said, 1.2 million Californians have renewed their policies — the majority of them subsidized. Another 342,000 people have signed up as of Sunday, Jan. 21.

“More of those people who are signing up are actually getting gold plans, which is a better deal because the subsidies are bigger,’’ Lee said.

A recent Covered California analysis found that the net monthly premiums for enrollees who receive financial help are on average 10 percent lower than what new and renewing consumers paid last year.

Consumers can visit the Covered California website to explore their options and see if they qualify for financial assistance to help buy health insurance.

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