CA health care: Premiums rising

It’s been a mixed bag for California residents seeking health reform.

Covered California, the state’s health insurance marketplace for middle-income residents, announced on Tuesday that it would increase its premiums by nearly 10% in 2024 — the highest hike since 2018, writes CalMatters’ health reporter Kristen Hwang.

Though federal pandemic aid had helped shield most Covered California enrollees from rising health care costs, Covered California’s executive director Jessica Altman blamed the hike on it being a “complicated time for health care,” given higher drug costs, rising inflation and labor shortages.

But there is some good news.

Of the 1.6 million Californians who turn to Covered California for health coverage, about 90% are eligible for federal or state financial aid, and 20% will see no change in their monthly premium, officials said. Covered California also plans to eliminate deductibles for 650,000 enrollees in 2024, and reduce out-of-pocket copays for doctor visits and prescription drugs.

Nonetheless, the rate hike is indicative of a national trend of runaway health care costs in both the private and public sectors — something that may continue to rise in the state as more people join Covered California, experts say.

A reminder: Since Medi-Cal restarted renewals after its pandemic pause, that system for the state’s lowest-income residents has dropped about 225,000 Californians. Many of those no longer eligible for Medi-Cal are anticipated to enroll in Covered California, which could drive up future costs.

  • Christine Eibner, a senior economist at the RAND Corporation research and policy think tank: “That population is relatively expensive. People who are lower income have more health care issues, and bringing them into the market may lead to higher premiums.”

Advocates for another health-related proposal — extending  paid sick leave from three days to seven days — rallied on Tuesday in Los Angeles, reports CalMatters’ politics and California Divide intern Rya Jetha.

“Seven days is fair, and we’re going to continue to push for even more than seven days later, after this,” said Sen. Lena Gonzalez, a Long Beach Democrat and author of Senate Bill 616.

Michelle Reed, a care provider and organizer with her local Service Employees International Union, told the rally that she was forced to work during the pandemic, even though her asthma was acting up. 

“My client has 15 flights of stairs I had to walk up. By the time I got up the stairs, I was out of breath and could hardly breathe, but I had to work,” Reed said, adding that the bill would help caregivers stay healthy while also keeping the recipients of their care safe. The Washington Center for Equitable Growth notes that public health experts see paid sick leave as one of the more effective tools for stopping the spread of infectious diseases. 

While 150 organizations support this measure, more than 60 groups oppose it, including the state Chamber of Commerce, which placed the bill on its 2023 “job killer” list because it “imposes new costs and leave requirements on employers of all sizes.”

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