Enrollment starts for health insurance under 'Obamacare'

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) - While a major sticking point in the current federal budget battle is the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama pledges the health care changes will move forward no matter what.

That means as of Tuesday - Oct. 1 - people can start signing up for the new insurance coverage the law provides.

In Kern County, some 52,000 people could qualify for it.

"The people who need to be paying attention to this are folks who are working," Kern County United Way president Della Hodson said on Monday. Her organization is one group that's ready to help people understand the new law.

"People shouldn't assume that Covered California is about low-income folks," Hodson said. That's the state's exchange of insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act.

"Covered California is a new, easy-to-use marketplace where you and your family may get financial assistance to make coverage more affordable and where you will be ale to compare and choose health coverage that best fits your needs and budget," their website says.

Hodson stresses the various plans in the marketplace are private insurance. "This is not discount, bargain basement coverage," she said.

It is for people who meet certain income levels, based on the federal poverty level.

"Say, you have a family of four and they're earning $40,000 a year," she gave as an example. "They are prime candidates."

The Covered California website has a lot of information, including a calculator where people can plug in their specific information and then compare what the plans offer and their costs.

"It's," Jonathan Torres explained. He's an outreach and education specialist at United Way Kern County.

Using that example family of four with $40,000 yearly income, a couple "levels" of coverage pop up.

At the "silver" level, four different plans are then displayed. In each case this example family would get a "premium assistance" of $381 a month. Of the four plans, after that subsidy is subtracted, the lowest-cost plan would run the family $155 a month, and the most expensive plan would cost them $231 a month.

The assistance or subsidy can be taken a couple different ways.

"In some cases, your subsidy is paid to the insurer and you only pay the difference," Hodson explained. "In other cases, there are situations where it would be a tax credit."

Torres said each person can decide how they want that done.

Torres also said that subsidy is not considered taxable income.

Then, there's the question of penalties under the new law if someone does not get health insurance.

"There are penalties, and it starts out as a small amount," in the first years Hodson said. She also said any penalty will be taken from the tax return process.

On Monday, Bakersfield resident Fernando Orozco said he currently has no health insurance, and he does not want any under the new program.

"I'd rather just man it out," he said. Orozco said he doesn't agree with how the Affordable Care Act will be operated.

Lewis Tudor said he's been pre-enrolled in health coverage, thanks to the law. He's grateful for the coverage because he's diabetic, and he didn't have health insurance before. His insurance will transition to the Affordable Care program after the first of the year.

Miranda Henrickson said she has no health insurance, but she did get some information about Obamacare coverage from her employer.

"Something about health insurance, and I really didn't understand what it was all about," she said. Henrickson said from what she's seen it doesn't look affordable.

"It is, as the name implies, it is affordable," Hodson argued.

She said people will be able to look through information about the exchange and find the plan that works for them.

"And purchase it with subsidies that will make it even more affordable for them," she said.

United Way of Kern County is one of 11 in the state with a grant to help people understand the new law. Hodson said they will walk people through the information, but they are not enrolling folks. Anyone needing assistance can call the United Way at (661) 834-1820,

The Affordable Care Act also expands Medi-Cal in the state.

"It is estimated that approximately 52,000 Kern County residents will qualify for income-based and federal subsidized coverage through Covered California and approximately 38,000 residents will qualify for expanded Medi-Cal coverage," reads a statement from Kern County Human Services.

That agency said it's ready to help their clients understand the new health insurance options. They have expanded their Regional Call Center to take questions about Covered California from Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and on Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. during open enrollment.

Actual health coverage under the new plans starts on Jan. 1.

Backers of the health care program say it has real benefits. "We also need to keep in mind what the costs are of having uninsured folks in our community," Hodson said. "And we all pay for that."