By Vicky Boyd
A $3 billion infusion from the American Rescue Plan means people of all income levels are likely to save on brand-name health insurance plans from Covered California during this year’s open enrollment.
To help San Joaquin Farm Bureau members determine whether they qualify for new or additional subsidies, SJFB has partnered with KeenanDirect, a Covered California insurance agent. Those with employer-provided health insurance are not eligible for the subsidies.
“The really big part of this story is there are some real financial incentives that (Covered California) has offered to make insurance more cost effective,” said SJFB Executive Director Bruce Blodgett. “We’re just looking for options and opportunities that can save members some money, and that’s a good thing.”
By partnering with other like-minded entities, SJFB is able to offer additional membership benefits, said SJFB President David Strecker.
“The bigger we are, the stronger we are,” he said. “When we’re able to offer more benefits to people, it’s better all the way around.”
Based on past arrangements with Keenan, Strecker said SJFB members should have a more personal experience reviewing their health insurance than if they tried to do so on the Covered California website.
“You get more customer care, and you’re not just a number or a file,” he said. “You’re a person with a name.”
The partnership with KeenanDirect began during the COVID outbreak when members endured financial and health hardships, Blodgett said. The arrangement has continued since.
SJFB members simply call Ryan Delay, KeenanDirect’s specialist for Medicare and individual policies, at (916) 859-7160, ext. 4183. He can review individual or family insurance plans bought through Covered California as well as those purchased elsewhere, said Sam Cole, KeenanDirect vice president.
“We don’t charge anything, and that’s what we’re here for,” Cole said. “It will take Ryan five to 10 minutes to look over the plan, and he possibly could enroll them in a new plan in 15 to 20 minutes. It’s not that difficult.”
Covered California open enrollment for individual or family policies for 2022 runs through Dec. 31. Cole recommended calling by early December and not waiting until the last minute.
The American Rescue Plan expanded subsidies for policies purchased through health insurance exchanges, such as Covered California, in 2021 and 2022 to enrollees making up to 400% of the federal poverty level. The rescue plan also increased subsidies for those making between 100% and 400% of the federal poverty level.
Covered California estimates an additional $119 per month – or $1,428 annually — in savings for people currently enrolled in Covered California plans because of the influx of federal money. The actual savings depends on the plan and enrollee location. Even those not currently enrolled through Covered California could possibly save by switching, Cole said.
The new law also ensures that everyone eligible will pay no more than 8.5% of their household income on health plan premiums for a benchmark silver plan if they enroll through Covered California. This means that individuals or families that weren’t eligible for subsidies in the past may now receive reduced-cost health insurance.
In essence, it eliminates the “subsidy cliff” for people who earn more than 400% of poverty levels. In the past, those with higher incomes were stuck paying the full cost of health insurance premiums even if it ate up a large chunk of their income. Now they can receive a subsidy that reduces premiums to no more than 8.5% of their household earnings.
In addition to the plans offered through Covered California – referred to as “on exchange” – Cole said KeenenDirect also can help SJFB members by reviewing individual or family plans that aren’t part of the exchange.
Although the two types are similar, he said one of the biggest difference is the subsidies. On-exchange plans are eligible for the subsidy whereas off-exchange plans are not.
Another difference is the participating healthcare networks. Sutter Health, for example, is not part of Covered California.
“All of the plans for an individual are standardized – platinum, gold, silver and bronze,” Cole said. “By and large the benefits are the same. The biggest thing is to make sure you get the plan that lets you keep your doctor.”
The financial assistance offered under the American Rescue Plan expires Dec. 31, 2022.