Obamacare pays income-based subsidies to 87 percent of the 1.3 million Californians currently covered by plans sold through the exchange. Elimination of those payments could very well lead to mass cancellations by consumers no longer able to afford their insurance policies.
Amid this potential turmoil, Covered California executive director
On Friday, a day before the tour was scheduled to start, Lee sat down with
The following is an edited version of his conversation.
Question: How has your organization prepared for the possibility of major changes to the Affordable Care Act in 2017?
Answer: We always recognized that we can't predict what's going to happen in the election, so we did modeling to say, for example, if subsidies went from 400 percent of (the federal poverty income level) to 250 percent of poverty, what happens? What would happen is ... about 300,000 Californians would be without insurance. We also modeled what happens if the subsidies are eliminated. If that happens, we lose 1.3 million people. Our raison d'etre goes away without the subsidies, and there would be 1.3 million people back on the rolls of the uninsured.
Question: What would you say to those who decide not to renew their coverage or not enroll for the first time because they're worried about a repeal?
Answer: To me, it really is like talking about the theoretical possibility that a comet will hit Earth tomorrow. There are endless possibilities, but some of them can be cuckoo. Yes, the president-elect has said "we want to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act," but we've also heard him say he wants to make sure all Americans have health coverage, he doesn't want to pull things out by the roots, he wants to ensure that people who have pre-existing medical conditions will maintain their coverage.
Hundreds of health plans around the nation have signed contracts for terms of engagement for 2017. The idea that they would just pull the rug out from under 22 million people, to me, just doesn't pass the smell test. We want Californians to take a deep breath, get the benefits the law provides. And we can and should be part of the policy debates that will take time.
We're focused on the here and now -- getting people enrolled. Big change does not happen overnight, but what does happen overnight is people can get hit by a car, people can get cancer. Does it make sense to make sure that we spend money to let people know they can get insurance now, while they can, at good subsidized rates? Absolutely.
Question: Do you see a path forward for Covered California if whatever new version of the Affordable Care Act no longer relies on health exchanges or no longer grants subsidies?
Answer: It's too soon to say. Premium subsidies are central to how we help people get coverage they couldn't afford otherwise. If the nature of the subsidies is dramatically different, we will be dramatically different. We've got time to figure that out. I hope that President-elect Trump and the new
Question: Covered California has been innovative in some aspects of its operations, including its decision to be an active purchaser of insurance coverage on behalf of Californians. What do you think policymakers in
Answer: We think some of the lessons we've learned in
We think that what we have in
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