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Covered California extends deadline amid uncertainty about health law

"We are now shifting our attention to changing the underlying delivery system to make it more cost effective and higher quality," says Peter Lee, executive director for Covered California, the state's health insurance marketplace.
Anne Cusack/LA Times via Getty Images
Peter Lee is the executive director for Covered California, the state's health insurance marketplace.

The deadline to enroll in Covered California is Tuesday night at midnight, but consumers who start the process now are being given four extra days to complete it.

“Experience tells us that people wait until the last day to sign up for health insurance, and we do not want to leave anyone behind,” Peter V. Lee, executive director for California's health care exchange, said in a statement announcing the extension Tuesday. “Health care is so important, and people should not miss this opportunity to get coverage if they get caught up in a wave of last-minute shoppers.”

Consumers who finish their applications between Feb. 1 and Feb. 4 will have their coverage begin March 1, according to the exchange.

Despite the uncertainty surrounding the Affordable Care Act, experts say people should sign up for health insurance — and people appear to be listening.

As of Monday, more than 320,000 people had newly enrolled in insurance through the state exchange since Nov. 1. The rate at which people are enrolling in coverage for the first time is on pace with last year, Covered California officials said.

"While people are worried, the uncertainty is not preventing them from enrolling or renewing in coverage for 2017," Lee said in an earlier statement.

The Trump administration and Congressional leaders have vowed to overhaul the federal health care law. But any changes shouldn't affect consumers' 2017 coverage, said Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access, a statewide health care consumer advocacy group.

Enrolling in insurance is essentially like signing a contract: Consumers agree to pay a certain premium rate and insurance companies agree to provide a certain level of coverage. That contract should remain intact in 2017, Wright said.

"Our message is very much that Covered California is open for business," he said. He said people should, "sign up for coverage and fight like hell to keep it."

Wright said it's especially important for people with pre-existing conditions to sign up for health insurance this year. Under the Affordable Care Act, companies are required to cover people, regardless of whether they have a condition like cancer or diabetes. But that could change under some of the replacement proposals that would allow insurance companies to charge more for people with pre-existing conditions who have gaps in coverage.

That worries Francesca Amari, a singer who lives in Palm Springs. She has a bladder condition and will need to take medication for the rest of her life. She re-enrolled in a plan through Covered California this year, but she's worried that any changes to the law could impact her access to health care.

"It's nerve-wracking," Amari said. "I want to stockpile my medicine. I want to try to get in my doctor visits as much as I can before anything goes away."

Chip Bolcik, a playwright from Sherman Oaks, also re-enrolled in a plan through Covered California. He said he and his wife were uninsured for a period before the Affordable Care Act took effect. They now have what he calls a "coal" plan — a bronze plan with a deductible of $6,700 per person.

"I'm grateful that we have it for emergencies," Bokcik said. "But the reality is, it is hardly effective for us. I don't bother with getting an annual check-up anymore because I'm afraid what it's going to cost for anything they find."

Under the Affordable Care Act, there is a penalty for not having health insurance. This year, it's $695 per adult or 2.5 percent of household income, whichever is higher.

This story has been updated.