Saturday, November 18, 2017
Is California ready for the Obamacare roll out?
By Charlene Muhammad Sentinel Contributing Writer
Published September 26, 2013

Dana Howard director of communications for Covered California answers questions at New America media briefing on Obamacare (Photo by Charlene Muhammad for Sentinel)

Dr Sandra Cox executive director of the Coalition of Mental Health (Photo by Charlene Muhammad for Sentinel)

“Countdown to Obamacare” was sponsored by the California Endowment, a private health foundation, and New America Media, a national organization of more than 3,000 ethnic journalists.  Their goal was to help raise awareness about how the enrollment process works.

The 2-hour briefing featured representatives from Covered California, the online marketplace established for people to buy insurance.  President Barack Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act into law in 2010, aiming to make health care affordable for all citizens.

“Think of Covered California as one big Cerritos Shopping Mall or the Beverly Center,” said Dana Howard, deputy director of communications for Covered California.  “And the only thing they sell is health insurance … And on top of it you can’t actually go knock on the door and try things on.  You have to go online to do it,” he said.

The marketplace sells health insurance like Anthem, Blue Shield, Kaiser, Molina Health Care, and more.  Customers can enroll through a certified enrollment counselor, the service center, a certified insurance agent, or their local human and social services office, according to Howard.

To sign up, people will need to provide their Social Security Card and proof of income, such as a W-2 stub or income tax return.  

While enrollment for health insurance coverage starts October 1, a recent Field Poll indicates one in four voters knows little or nothing about the new health care reform law.  The information gap is biggest for immigrants and communities of color, according to the poll. And, some 83 percent of uninsured voters, 82 percent of Blacks, 79 percent of Latinos, and 83 percent of non-English speakers say they want to know more.

But how can they when basics of Covered California’s plan is unknown or confusing to journalists tasked to help inform them?  Almost all of the journalists at the briefing said they knew little to nothing about the Affordable Care Act’s details or Covered California.

Here’s what they were told:

  • 2013 is the only year there’ll be a 6-month open enrollment process.  In that time California expects to enroll more than 1 million of the 5.3 million uninsured across the state.
  • Obamacare requires employers to offer coverage to employees.
  • As a state-run agency, Covered California provides name-brand, private insurance from companies.

In addition:


  •  2.6 million people qualify for help from the federal government to offset their costs for coverage.
  • The other 2.7 million will be offered the most affordable cost based on their incomes.  Anyone not insured will face fee penalties.
  • And, 1.4 million – who fall at 138 percent or below the federal poverty level  – will be newly eligible for Medical. They can either apply for that coverage or pay the full premium for insurance outright.

Contrary to rumors, the elderly or people already on Medical insurance are not required to give up their current coverage and apply for new health care plans under the law. is the only online site for purchasing insurance under the Affordable Care Act said Dana.  He cautioned people on how to avoid scams.

“The only people knocking on your door potentially would be certified educators.  They cannot enroll you.  The other people might be and unlikely would be a certified insurance agent.  They can enroll you,” he said.

Frauds and scams could happen but he urged consumers to use their common sense. 

“Do not give your Social Security Number, your phone number, your email number, your income amount to anyone who you do not know who they are; that you have not asked show me your ID,” Howard said.

He continued, “Show me your certified insurance agent ID number, your enrollment counselor number.  Give me your name and you know what?  If you really want this sale, I’ll call you back.”

Dr. Sandra Cox, executive director of the Coalition of Mental Health Professionals, discussed the difference she hopes the Affordable Care Act  will make on mental health care for low-income people.

“Mental health is a luxury, especially in this country and in Los Angeles as well,” she said.  “It’s a very expensive proposition to get mental health services and at our agency, we use a sliding scale but most people tell us, ‘We still can’t afford that,’” Dr. Cox stated.

Her greatest concern is that in Los Angeles, so many clients attempt to live on general relief – $221 per month – and they can’t even pay for food, much less health insurance, she said.

“So the Affordable Care Act is going to open doors for a lot of people who weren’t able to get mental health coverage prior,” and for those who are self-employed like gardeners, painters, and electricians, who started their own business and are still low-income,” Dr. Cox added.


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