Covered California hosts health care reform seminars

FRESNO, Calif.

September Singh joined a roomful of her colleagues to learn more about health care reform at a seminar in North Fresno, hosted by the Fresno County Employer Advisory Council. Singh hopes to clear up questions for her co-workers at the Fresno Irrigation District, where she's the director of human resources.

Singh: "Is my health insurance cost going up? Am I going to lose benefits? Will I have the same coverage?"

Coverage for almost all Americans is the goal of the Affordable Care Act, by January 1st. But starting October 1st, uninsured Californians, and those who already have health insurance but want to shop around, can enroll in a plan through Covered California, the state-run health care exchange.

"We're a one stop shop for individuals to go and compare health plans that are being offered under the Patient Protection Act and the Affordable Care Act," said Athena Fleming, Covered California information officer.

Covered California is moving into a building at Herndon and Palm in Northwest Fresno where a call center will help people find a health care plan under the exchange. Over 5 million Californians do not have any medical coverage and 69,000 people are uninsured in the Central Valley.

People with pre-existing conditions who may have been dropped by their insurance company can no longer be excluded from coverage. Covered California's website has a "menu" of insurance provider options, which vary by county. Prices are based on income levels, deductibles and out-of-pocket costs.

The website also provides a health care calculator so you can compare coverage and figure out your costs.

Covered California expects thousands of people in the valley to weigh the decision between paying for health insurance or paying the government penalty, but a big portion of those who are uninsured could be eligible for subsidies to help them pay for their health care costs.

"We're the only place where you can go to get tax credits and government premium assistance when you're shopping for health care," said Fleming.

As the deadline gets closer, thousands of individuals and companies still face many unknowns as they tackle the biggest change to health care since the creation of Medicare.

"You never know year to year once this really rolls in and you start to see the effects of it, at that point, we're not sure," said Singh.

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