Fresno, Kings and Madera County residents got a look Friday afternoon at premium rates they will be paying for Covered California health plans in 2014 and a chance to question the executive director of the state-run health-plan exchange.
It was the sixth town hall meeting held by Covered California, which will begin enrolling Californians in health plans beginning Oct. 1. Open enrollment will end March 31.
Under the Affordable Care Act, also called Obamacare, people now without insurance will have plans to choose from, and more low-income will be eligible for Medi-Cal.
Three health plans will provide individual coverage to Fresno County residents: Anthem Blue Cross, Blue Cross of California and Kaiser Permanente.
Premiums range from a $146 for a 25-year-old for the minimum plan to $708 for the minimum plan for a family of four.
Valley rates are higher than those in other areas, such as Los Angeles. Peter V. Lee, executive director of Covered California, said after the meeting that the higher premiums reflect the cost of health care in the Valley. “You talk to the doctors and hospitals” about why those costs are higher, he said.
But many Valley residents will qualify for subsidies that will help pay the monthly premiums, as well as co-payments for doctor visits, Lee said.
According to Covered California, 65,000 Fresno County residents will be eligible for subsidies.
Members of the town hall audience had lots of questions about eligibility and affordability, but were particularly concerned about accessibility to coverage. Lee said Covered California plans were screened to make sure they have adequate pools of doctors, nurses, hospitals and other health providers to create “health teams” in communities.
After the meeting Lee said Covered California’s screening did not include Medi-Cal plans. The job of making sure Medi-Cal patients can find doctors belongs to the state Department of Health Care Services, he said.
A shortage of doctors accepting Medi-Cal patients has long been a problem in the central San Joaquin Valley, and members of the audience said they were worried that will increase when more people qualify for Medi-Cal under the Affordable Care Act.
The Affordable Care Act is the biggest health care change since Medicare, Lee said. Valley residents have a chance to play a role in it because Fresno is the location of one of three call centers in the state. Workers at the call center will be trained to field questions about benefits, plans, eligibilty, costs.