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It's Enrollment Time at Covered California!

LOS ANGELES - Enrollment for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) opens November 1, and Covered California, the state's hub for affordable plans, launched its outreach to Black communities with a "Coffee & Conversation Media Roundtable" at the California Endowment on October 19.

The event was hosted by Dr. Robert Ross, president, and CEO of the California Endowment, which makes grants to organizations and institutions that directly benefit the health and well-being of Californians.

Open enrollment ends on January 31, however, outside of that time, consumers may enroll in a plan if they experience a life event that qualifies them for a special-enrollment period.

Ross, Dr. Peter Lee, executive director of Covered California, and a host of speakers discussed the future of health insurance and health care for Blacks in the state, particularly in a time of federal uncertainty and potential reforms to the national health care law.

In August, the Trump Administration announced it would allocate $10 million for advertising and other outreach for enrollment under the Affordable Care Act Department this year, versus $100 million last year.

To maintain, Covered California has to add a surcharge averaging 12.4 percent to the Silver-tier plan next year. But don't worry, it says because the plans will level out, with nearly four out of five consumers seeing their premiums stay the same or decrease, since the amount of financial help they receive will also rise.

Financial help means that in 2018, nearly 60 percent of subsidy-eligible enrollees will have access to Silver coverage for less than $100 per month — the same as it was in 2017 — and 74 percent can purchase Bronze coverage for less than $10 per month, explains Covered California.

It is vital that Black communities stay informed about the state health exchange and its efforts to enroll communities of color, and members of the Black press are key players in that goal, say the health care advocates.

Statewide, Covered California has reduced the eligible uninsured rate to a little over three percent, meaning it's reaching universal coverage, according to Lee. That benefits all communities and to a very powerful degree, Black communities, he said.

Blacks make up approximately five percent of subsidy-eligible enrollments, and they make up eight percent of the new Medical enrollments, he said.

"We're doing this in very odd and uncertain, turbulent times," said Lee. In many ways, this fifth open enrollment period is the second most important one Covered California has ever had, he said.

California's decrease of 3.2 million people is the biggest decrease in the raw number of people uninsured nationwide, representing more than three states combined, cited Covered California from a U.S. Census report.

In the beginning, the network stumbled a little bit, but proved to the country it could endure, has done pretty well, and is a model for the U.S., Lee stated. He also said frankly that Covered California and the Affordable Care Act are under attack.

Both have weathered the storm and been very effective in continuing to deliver, Lee said, as he thanked the Black media as part of the reason they've been successful in California.

Covered California's marketing campaign aims to help motivate, inform, and assist people with enrollment. "We're at a time where telling our story has to happen on the ground," Lee said.

While the average Californian, last open enrollment, saw, heard, read about Covered California 90 times, name recognition is not enough, Lee stated.

A survey of uninsured, eligible consumers showed 25 percent know it and 75 percent do not, according to Lee.

That is why the health insurance marketplace plans to spend $111 million - mostly on paid advertising - to make Blacks aware of benefits through Covered California, such as free preventive care services, lower cost, and quality choices from brand name companies.

The bottom line is quality health care is within reach, emphasized Ross, Lee, and other roundtable speakers, including physicians from Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Hospital, and Covered California insurance agents.

"California has been a model for the successful implementation of Obamacare," said Ross. "That partnership with the California Black Media and others, we think, is at least, at least, partly responsible for seeing the level of success we have in getting coverage improvements in the African American community," he stated.

Regina Wilson, California Black Media director, questioned, what, specifically, are the health insurance plans themselves doing in terms of outreach to Blacks who are eligible, but not enrolling.

"One of the things we hear when we're out there is people are confused about what's happening," said Wilson.

"Covered California, you guys have stepped to the plate. The Endowment always steps to the plate, but I see an absence when it comes to those individual plans marketing in those areas,” said Wilson.

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