The Sacramento Bee: Health advocates vow to fight repeal of Obamacare as California sign-up deadlines approach

December 13, 2016

By Claudia Buck 

Ignore the political uncertainty swirling around Obamacare: If you want health insurance coverage in California starting Jan. 1, sign up this week.

That’s the message Tuesday from officials at Covered California, the state’s official marketplace for the Affordable Care Act. They said about 139,000 new enrollees have signed up during the current open enrollment season, roughly the same as last year. In addition, 1.2 million who were previously enrolled have reupped their health coverage.

It’s too soon to tell if enrollment has been affected by the uncertainty over President-elect Donald Trump’s vow to “replace and repeal” the health care law soon after his inauguration, officials said. Republican lawmakers haven’t yet clarified how quickly they plan to move against the health care law and what they might replace it with.

“We’re open for business,” Covered California spokesman Roy Kennedy said. “Things haven’t changed for 2017, so we’re telling people who are new to a policy or are renewing their policy that we’re here to help them get insurance and get into the right plan.”

That call came as more than 200 health care advocates gathered in downtown Sacramento to urge solidarity in fighting the anticipated rollback of the Affordable Care Act, cutbacks in Medicare expansion programs and other health care proposals promised by the incoming Trump administration.

“We cannot go back,” said Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access California, the statewide consumer advocacy organization. He said California’s congressional delegation needs to be educated about the “catastrophic consequences” of repealing the Affordable Care Act without an alternative plan in place, especially among low-income residents in the Central Valley.

An estimated 5 million Californians are insured under the Affordable Care Act, either through Covered California plans or Medi-Cal expansion.

“We’re not going to let one election take back all the progress we’ve made so far,” said state Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, who was behind legislation to enroll all California children, regardless of immigration status, in health coverage. That effort, estimated to cost the state about $132 million and cover about 117,000 children, took effect May 1.

Under Covered California, residents must sign up by Thursday, to have health coverage in place starting Jan. 1. The sign-up season ends Jan. 31, but Kennedy said consumers are “highly encouraged” to sign up now, rather than wait until the last minute. Those who enroll by Jan. 31 would not receive insurance coverage insurance until March 1.

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