If ever there was a time to be without health insurance, during the coronavirus pandemic was not it. But Leigh Broadway lost the comfortable salary and insurance coverage at her job when she left her employer in 2008 to care for her ailing father.
She had enough savings to buy health insurance for a few years but then couldn’t afford it. Her temporary jobs paid less than she’d made as a bank vice president but gave her flexibility to help her dad through multiple health issues and encroaching dementia.
By this past summer she’d been two years without coverage, and the threat of unforeseen medical bills was nerve-racking.
“I’m healthy. I haven’t had a cold or flu for probably 20 years,” Broadway, of Los Angeles County, says. “But I’m 63 now and feel that it’s not prudent to be without insurance.”
Covered California, the state’s marketplace for health plans under the federal Affordable Care Act, now offers help for residents like her.
The national coronavirus relief package enacted earlier this year increased and extended premium subsidies for people without job-based coverage who buy private insurance through exchanges like Covered California.
Many factors affect the exact amount of help each person receives, such as the type of insurance plan chosen. Broadway purchased coverage for $144 a month—compared with $958 without the subsidy.
Sign-up Deadline Extended
As many as 1.5 million uninsured residents between ages 50 and 64 could gain Covered California health insurance access or pay less through the new subsidies, according to AARP research.
Health care affordability has been particularly at risk for 50- to 64-year-olds, who aren’t usually eligible for Medicare and often struggle to get back into the workforce after losing jobs and insurance, says Luis Campillo, AARP California’s manager in Los Angeles. He says many residents don’t know about the new aid.
The federal relief, part of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, reduces premiums for those eligible. Covered California extended the deadline for people to sign up for insurance to Dec. 31, Campillo notes.
“Perhaps they were not even seeking coverage,” thinking it was unaffordable, he says.
The COVID-19 pandemic means there’s still a need for aid, says James Scullary, Covered California spokesman. “California has really leaned in on making the Affordable Care Act available and promoting it,” he says, including by extending the sign-up period.
AARP California is spreading the word about extended enrollment and subsidized premiums, through social media and at https://states.aarp.org/california/aca-insurance-enrollment. For information about telephone town halls on the topic, check https://states.aarp.org/california/.
The American Rescue Plan caps out-of-pocket insurance expenses at 8.5 percent of household income, though the California subsidy is even more generous in some cases.
In addition to the uninsured, thousands already enrolled through Covered California may qualify for new help to lower their premiums.
The subsidy changes also could reduce racial and ethnic disparities. Among Californians ages 50 to 64, only 4.9 percent of whites have no health care coverage, while 16 percent of Hispanics and 6.7 percent of Blacks in that age group are uninsured, according to the AARP Public Policy Institute.
Insurance brings Broadway peace of mind: “It’s a security just in case. Because who knows? You can be healthy your whole life and then things can happen.”
For more information, check https://states.aarp.org/california/aca-insurance-enrollment or coveredca.com.
Rita Beamish is a writer living in San Mateo, Calif.
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