It is time for Californians to get covered.
Covered California, the state’s Affordable Care Act program, was launched Tuesday afternoon in an event on the Fresno State campus and several other locations around the state.
Health care and health insurance plans are California’s top priority now, and Covered California is ready to help the uninsured get insured, said Sarah Reyes the regional program manager in the Central Valley of the California Endowment. She was one of the many guest speakers at the Fresno event, held in the Free Speech Area.
Fresno State President Joseph Castro opened by referring to it as a historic occasion.
“We are pleased that our campus is the only university selected today as the site of the official announcement of Covered California,” he said. “It is appropriate for Fresno State to be selected for this event because our campus serves the entire California region.
“A recent survey concluded that over 20 percent of our students currently do not have insurance until today.”
Before the event, Athena Fleming, an information officer, explained Covered California, a state-funded agency, as a “health-care marketplace” for the newly-implemented Affordable Care Act.
Some of the health insurance companies involved are Kaiser Permanente, Health Net, Blue Cross, Blue Shield and Medi-Cal.
Fleming also referred to Covered California as the “Amazon of health care,” acting as the go-to place to look at various forms of health care plans.
“You’ll be able to log on [to coveredCA.com], see the plans and compare them,” she said. “They’re all going to provide the same basic care essentials – emergency care, lab fees, general doctor’s visit.”
Compared with the old health insurance system, the Affordable Care Act grants a wider range of opportunities for individuals of all backgrounds to get properly insured, she said.
“Before, a lot of people were turned away from health care maybe because they had a previous existing condition,” Fleming said. “Things like asthma and diabetes – those will make it hard for you to have health care in the past. Now that’s all taken away.”
A cap is also placed on the price range for health insurance companies to ensure affordability to the public.
“What I pay is going to be the same as the other person in my income range pays,” Fleming said. “If I’m a single mom and I’ve got three kids, I’m going to be paying the same thing as someone else who may be in the same situation. Before it was just whatever they wanted.”
Many asked the definition of “affordable,” and Fleming explained that the cost of coverage would depend now on family size and annual income.
A college student working part time and earning less than $15,000 a year can opt for Medi-Cal, a free state health care plan. Fresh-out-of-college graduates who might not be insured by their companies may be only looking at $50 to $120 a month for insurance, Fleming said.
Another change is students under the age of 26 are now allowed to stay on their parents’ plan. The age limit before was 23.
“Before, if you were young and you accidentally broke your leg and you show up at the emergency room, they are going to take care of you, but it’s going to be a big fill,” Fleming said.
“But now we’re saying get covered in advance. Don’t wait till the last minute. Pay $50 to $100 a month, and you are not looking at emergency ambulance fees. You’re not looking at the cast, the X-ray cost, the prescription drug, because all of that is taken care of now.”
Starting Jan. 1, 2014, everyone is expected to be insured, Fleming said. Depending which costs more, there will be a $90 penalty or a charge of 1 percent of income on people who are not insured.
Sean Kiernan, vice president of student affairs for Associated Students, Inc., emphasized the importance of Covered California in providing “affordable and quality health care” to Fresno State students.
Kiernan told of a couple studying at Fresno State who were unable to obtain health insurance for their newborn baby because of a pre-existing condition during pregnancy.
“To make matters worse, the student fees through the Health Care Center did not fund the C-section nor did it fund the baby’s health insurance,” Kiernan said. “Covered California ensures that students and families such as these can obtain proper health care coverage so they are able to pursue an education without being weighed down by the excessive burdens of skyrocketing health care cost because of circumstances.”
Kiernan said he hoped that with the campus’ help and community’s cooperation with Covered California, students would not hesitate to get insured.
Diana S. Dooley, state secretary of Health and Human Services Agency and also the board chair of Covered California, said she was pleased to be assigned to the official opening since she is a graduate of Fresno State.
She said the event was important to let students know that the new insurance plans will not only be affordable, but also to avoid treating unexpected illnesses or injuries that can lead to bankruptcy.
“There are young adults working very hard making their way in this world, and to have the security of knowing their health will be protected is a very high priority,” Dooley said.
Fresno State’s Health Insurance Education Project will be promoting health insurance around the Free Speech Area and hold classroom presentations in the near future, said Laura Calderon, campus coordinator of the project.
For more information on cost calculation and the various plans available, students may visit www.coveredCA.com.