Don’t be fooled, Californians.
Despite what you may be seeing or hearing about a Dec. 15 enrollment deadline, you still have more than six weeks to choose or switch your Affordable Care Act health plans.
It’s true that Americans who live in the 39 states that rely on the federal health insurance marketplace, healthcare.gov, face a final deadline Friday to sign up for plans.
But Californians who buy their own insurance via the private market or the state health insurance exchange, Covered California, have a three-month open enrollment period that ends Jan. 31, 2018.
“With all the confusion at the national level, we did not want to add to that confusion by changing the open enrollment period this year,” said Lizelda Lopez, Covered California spokeswoman.
The Trump administration cut healthcare.gov’s sign-up period in half, to 45 days, as part of what it said was an effort to “improve the market and promote stability.” Supporters of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, saw the move as an attempt to sabotage the exchanges and the health care law.
Some other states that run their own exchanges have opted, like California, to keep longer enrollment periods: Washington state has a Jan. 15 drop-dead date; enrollment in New York ends Jan. 31, and residents of Colorado have until Jan. 12.
Though Californians have until the end of January to enroll in coverage, Friday was supposed to be the deadline for those who want their new plans to start on Jan. 1.
But as in previous years, Covered California extended that deadline, so Californians will now have until Dec. 22 to sign up for coverage that starts on New Year’s Day. If they sign up between Dec. 23 and Jan. 31, their coverage will kick in at a later date.
“Covered California is seeing a huge influx of consumers, and we know that not everyone is getting through on the phone or is able to get an appointment with a certified enroller,” said Covered California’s Executive Director Peter Lee.
Dec. 22 will be the first in a series of such deadlines: Jan. 15 is the last day to sign up for coverage starting Feb. 1, and for those who sign up after Jan. 15, coverage will start March 1.
Despite continued federal threats to kill the Affordable Care Act and widespread consumer confusion, Covered California has experienced a solid start to enrollment for the 2018 coverage year. In early December, it reported 102,000 new enrollees and 1.2 million renewals in the first month of the sign-up period. That represents a 28 percent increase in new sign-ups from the same period last year, Covered California said. Renewal rates are similar to last year’s.
“Consumers are continuing to check out their options and take advantage of the lower prices,” Lee said.
The agency has poured a huge amount of money into advertising, setting itself apart from the federal marketplace. While the federal government cut its advertising budget sharply this year, Covered California deployed a $45 million ad budget — more than four times what the feds are spending.
That money is paying for TV, radio and online ads, plus more. Covered California has also earmarked money for two bus tours to promote enrollment, and for 12 newly painted murals that don’t have anything directly to do with signing up for health insurance.