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California Residents Get an Early Start to Open Enrollment in 2019

Open enrollment for 2019 health insurance starts November 1 nationwide, but California residents will have a jumpstart on the rest of the country. That’s thanks to state legislation late last year that extended the open enrollment period in the Golden State to run from October 15 through January 15. Residents who buy private health insurance will have three full months to purchase a new plan or renew an existing one. The change affects shoppers on and off the state’s Affordable Care Act exchange site, Covered California.

Most other states follow the federal open enrollment period, which runs from November 1 through December 1 for coverage starting January 1, 2019. Some states, like California, run their own state-based health insurance exchange site and can elect different dates.

Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA or Obamacare), an annual open enrollment period allows Americans to shop for and purchase plans only once during the calendar year. This is to prevent people from buying health insurance after they’re sick or they’ve been diagnosed with a medical condition and dropping it once their problem has been addressed – a scenario that inflates premium rates and insurance costs.

Changes to the ACA and 2019 open enrollment implemented under the Trump administration have been met with mixed reactions from insurers, consumers and government officials across the country. These changes include a shorter signup period for health insurance – initiated with last year’s enrollment season – that cut enrollment in half, to just six weeks. And for the first time in 2019, the individual mandate, an unpopular but key component of Obamacare, will be rendered ineffective since the penalty fee for not having health insurance will be zeroed out starting January 1.

The mandate to have minimum essential coverage remains in effect, but without the penalty in place, health insurance experts assume that many current customers will drop their coverage to save money. Younger and healthier customers are more likely to drop their health plans.

On the other side of the debate, Trump administration supporters claim credit for stabilizing premium rates and lowering costs for the 2019 enrollment period. In a speech delivered in Nashville on September 27, Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alexander Azar praised the current administration for lowering premium rates for next year. Azar and his department have been touting the benefits and flexibility of short term health plans, recently expanded under the Trump administration to last up to nearly a full year.

Opponents argue in turn that premium rates may have dropped even further without Trump’s interference. In a press release announcing anticipated rates for the 2019 enrollment season, Peter V. Lee, executive director for Covered California, insisted that premium rates for California might have dropped much lower if the individual mandate penalty hadn’t been eliminated.

As it stands, Californians on and off the exchange can expect an average increase of just under 9 percent for health insurance premiums in 2019, which is nearly 4 percent lower than the increase in 2018. The same 11 insurers from last year will also participate on the exchange this year, and 96 percent of California customers will have access to at least two carriers.

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