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Big Risk’ Dropping Health Coverage After Obamacare Penalty Removal, Official Warns

An ambulance is parked outside of the emergency room at UC San Diego's Medica...

Photo by Susan Murphy

Above: An ambulance is parked outside of the emergency room at UC San Diego's Medical Center in Hillcrest, June 5, 2018.

'Big Risk' Dropping Health Coverage After Obamacare Penalty Removal, Official Warns


Peter Lee, executive director, Covered California


As the deadline looms for Covered California, the state health insurance exchange, nearly 90,000 new consumers have purchased a health plan since open enrollment began in October, and more than 1 million people have renewed their coverage. But tens of thousands of people are expected to forgo health insurance in 2019.

“We’ve projected that about 12 percent fewer people will enroll because of the penalty going away,” said Peter Lee, executive director for Covered California.

For the last eight years, a federal tax penalty for not having health coverage charged the greater of $695, or 2.5 percent, of household income. The mandate was eliminated this year by the Trump Administration.

Lee said people who choose not to have health insurance are taking a big risk.

“They’re doing two things: they’re gambling with their own health because some of them are going to end up in the hospital with big bills,” Lee said. “But also they’re raising health care costs for everybody else because when you have healthy people choose not to enroll, that raises the cost for everybody else.”

Lee said nearly 50,000 people with Covered California plans last year had a cancer diagnosis and more than 20,000 had a broken arm or dislocated shoulder.

“Not one of those people went into last year thinking, ‘Hey this is the year I could have cancer. This is the year I could break an arm,’” he said. “That’s why we’re out there beating the bushes, reminding people that life can change in an instant.”

Nearly 100,000 people in San Diego are eligible for financial help with premiums, Lee said.

"If you get a subsidy, most people are paying between $50 and $100 a month for their entire share of the premium," Lee said. "Because the subsidy, the tax credit, picks up about 80 or 90 percent of their bill."

“Health insurance can be confusing and that’s one of the reasons we’re so happy to have literally hundreds and hundreds of licensed insurance agents, enrollees, throughout San Diego, throughout California,” Lee said.

For coverage beginning Jan. 1, the deadline to sign up is Dec. 15. The last opportunity to sign up is Jan. 15. For help with enrollment visit

With Obamacare tax penalties going away in 2019, tens of thousands of people in California are expected to drop their health coverage. But health officials warn that's taking a big risk.

California is extending its health insurance enrollment deadline.


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