I would like to offer my sincerest apologies to those people who I lied to about Covered California’s Open Enrollment dates. I told you open enrollment was closed as of January 31, 2020. Covered California says I lied to you because they have announced that you can enroll in health insurance through April 30th, effectively extending open enrollment to anyone.
I would also like to apologize to those individuals and families who I assisted in enrolling in health plans before the January 31, which I thought was the end of open enrollment. You folks have had to pay for several months of health insurance that you may not have wanted to. And now, you see, other people, who skipped the original open enrollment, are being allowed to enroll in health insurance months later, with no penalty, and saving on months of premiums.
New Special Enrollment Period Proves Me Wrong
Covered California has determined to prove me a liar with regards to the last date for enrolling in health insurance for 2020, and thereby avoid California’s individual mandate penalty, because they said lots of Californians were unaware of the new penalty for not having health insurance.
I am confused as to how living under a rock for months and not learning about your responsibilities qualifies you for a special enrollment into a health plan outside of open enrollment. Covered California said in one of the press briefings that they surveyed the agent community and health insurance agents said they have many people who were unaware of the new individual mandate penalty.
In the first week of February, Covered California surveyed 10,000 of its Certified Insurance Agents and found that there is still a substantial lack of awareness, with 41 percent saying only some or none of their consumers knew about the penalty, and 80 percent saying the penalty is motivating or extremely motivating for their consumers.https://www.coveredca.com/newsroom/news-releases/2020/02/18/new-california-policies-make-huge-difference-increasing-new-signups-during-covered-californias-open-enrollment-by-41-percent/
First, Covered California never contacted me about my guesstimate regarding the percentage of the population unaware of the new penalty. Second, if they had contacted me, I would have told them that a lack of familiarity of the penalty was high, but it was a moot point. Why? Most people don’t know or care about the penalty because they have employer sponsored health insurance or they have Medi-Cal or Medicare. Just because there is a lack of awareness about a penalty is not necessarily an indicator that there is a significant portion of the population that will be adversely affected.
Covered California Marketing Misses Penalty Education
I was in attendance at a Covered California meeting in Sacramento where agents asked if Covered California was going to publicize the individual mandate penalty in their marketing campaign for open enrollment. Executive Director Peter Lee told the audience that Covered California marketing would focus on the new California Premium Subsidy and not the penalty. But now, Covered California is using the argument that thousands of people don’t know about the penalty, when they are in charge of making California residents aware of the individual mandate penalty.
Covered California seemingly ignored Blue Shield of California’s operation to steer their off-exchange members into Covered California heath plans with the subsidy during open enrollment. They steered these consumers into Blue Shield plans by prohibiting Covered California insurance agents from discussing any other plans available. If Covered California has slapped Blue Shield for their anti-competitive practices in private, they have not made that public.
The quasi open enrollment period lets people in off-exchange plans switch to Covered California and potentially receive the California Premium Subsidy. Perhaps the other carriers cried foul over Blue Shield’s operation and want to steer their current members back into their health plans. It looks like Covered California is accommodating such wishes under the new ignorance enrollment period. Because some people are ignorant of the new individual mandate penalty – they get a second chance to enroll. Because some people are ignorant of the new California subsidies – they get a second chance to enroll.
Of course, the ignorance enrollment period is a stinging slap in the face to people who acted responsibly by enrolling by the published dates. The new ignorance enrollment period loudly proclaims, by Covered California, that it pays to be a slacker. There is no benefit in personal responsibility. Just ignore all the news and some government agency will bend the rules to accommodate you.
This special enrollment period based on the qualifying event of “Just learned of the Penalty” or “Just leaned of the California Subsidy” is not a wholly charitable gift. Covered California is funded by a 3.5 percent charge paid by the health plans to Covered California based on the total premium amount. Covered California would like to sell health insurance all year and not be subject to any closed periods. The more they sell, the more they earn.
But allowing people to enroll in health insurance anytime they want creates adverse selection. It is adverse to the health plans to have to pay huge claims for health care services when people only enroll when they have a health care crisis. These people will promptly drop coverage after their claims have been paid resulting in higher premiums for the rest of the members who stay in the insurance pool.
I fully support Covered California’s mission to extend affordable health insurance to as many people as possible. I did my best to promote the new California Premium Subsidy, the new individual mandate penalty, AND the dates of the open enrollment period. I probably enrolled more people eligible for Medi-Cal than I did in either off-exchange health plans or Covered California enrollments with the premium tax credit subsidy. Agents are not paid anything for assisting people with enrollments into Medi-Cal.
What I am opposed to is Covered California’s decision to make me sound like a liar and make my clients look stupid with this new ignorance enrollment period. Covered California should apologize to the state for their poor marketing that did not accentuate the new penalty, if that is what actually led to so much ignorance about the new individual mandate.
Please accept my apologies for any misinformation I imparted to you regarding open enrollment deadlines. I was only following the rules of Covered California.