Deadline Day! Advice for Picking a Plan TODAY!

Covered California has been reporting a surge of sign-ups in anticipation of the deadline–more than 77,000 from December 20-22, topping 400,000 since the start of October–to pick a plan in order for health coverage to start on January 1. Here’s some advice for dealing with Covered California, the new insurance marketplace where individuals, families and small business can select health coverage and may get financial assistance under the Affordable Care Act (ACA):

“If you’ve made a good faith effort to start your application can finish it tomorrow,” said Peter Lee to the press today.

Alongside last-minute holiday shopping, consumers should strongly consider using this last day to pick a health plan and get covered. If they sign up now, consumers will have starting in January the peace of mind that comes from coverage. While you can sign-up for coverage later, going uninsured for even a month means that for that time you are one emergency away from financial ruin. Signing up later could means consumers (and their communities) leave available subsidies in DC. Consumers also should realize that missing this deadline and starting coverage later means having a shorter time to pay down their deductible, potentially losing hundreds or thousands of dollars in coverage.

Other advice for consumers, that @HealthAccess offered on Twitter:

* Consider premium vs. cost-sharing trade-offs. Bronze may not be best value.

* If under 250%FPL, Silver may be best value with cost-sharing subsidies.

* Beware co-insurance, even if it has a cheap premium. X% of a big bill is still a big bill.

* Pick a plan not just on premium, but on providers–call to check networks.

* Call your insurer and providers to see what networks they are in.

* Don’t forget quality in plans. As we wait for quality ratings from Covered California, check out OPA grades.

* Many ways to sign up: not just on phone, but also online, in person, etc. Try again if needed.

* Even if you are in a grandfathered plan, check your options. Better values out there.

* For many between jobs, students, etc, Medi-Cal is a new option.

* Project your yearly income when applying for subsidies–but if you miss, just reconcile on 1040.

* If you get coverage through COBRA, Covered California likely has a better deal.

* With new benefits, don’t forget “old” ones: 26-year olds on parent coverage, etc.

* Thinking about going uncovered & paying penalty? Evaluate: 1% of income can be a lot, more than a bronze plan.

* Sign-up/Pick a plan TODAY, so your coverage starts 1/1.

We strongly advise consumers to pick a plan not just on premium price, but also to consider the out-of-pocket costs, and check to see which networks include their doctors and other providers. The Bronze plan will be the cheapest premium, but depending on your income and health status, the Silver plans or others may be a better value. As with buying coverage previously, it’s a good idea to call your insurer and/or providers you need to see which are in what networks. As Covered California’s new provider search tool gets continually updated, it should be a powerful new resource for consumers.

Even as hundreds of thousands of Californians get new coverage next month, the work to implement and improve upon health reform will not be over. There will still be three months for outreach, education, and enrollment. California is leading the way, and we have a moral, public health, and financial imperative to get everybody the help they need. Every day an eligible Californians is not signed up for coverage is a day we are leaving money in Washington, DC, rather than having it come to our state to improve our health system and economy. As the Affordable Care Act bring more Californians into coverage, including those down the income scale, it is even more urgent that our regulators are vigilant on enforcing consumer protections, on everything from out-of-pocket costs and on network adequacy. California can and should do more for those who still need help, from those facing high premium hikes to the remaining uninsured. The work for a better health system is just beginning…