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Obama cites California to tout his healthcare law

June 07, 2013|By Noam N. Levey and Christi Parsons | This post has been updated, as indicated below

[Updated, 10:56 a.m. June 7: SAN JOSE – President Obama on Friday morning held up California as an example of how his healthcare law will help consumers, citing the state’s progress getting health insurers to offer better plans at affordable prices.

“A lot of opponents of the Affordable Care Act … had all kinds of sky-is-falling, doom-and-gloom predictions that not only would the law fail, but what we would also see is costs would skyrocket,” the president told reporters at a stop in Silicon Valley. “It turns out that what we are seeing in the states that have committed themselves to implementing this law correctly, we’re seeing some good news.”

Obama also urged Californians and other Americans who don’t have health coverage to sign up this fall.

And he highlighted a multimillion-dollar partnership between the nonprofit California Endowment and major Spanish-language media outlets aimed at getting Latinos to enroll in health insurance next year. The Obama administration and other supporters of the law believe Latinos are crucial to the law’s success.]

The endowment, which has allocated $225 million to help implement the Affordable Care Act, plans to spend about $70 million for advertising, much of it in Spanish-language media, including Univision, Telemundo, La Opinion and Radio Bilingue.

The president's remarks come two weeks after state leaders announced lower-than-expected premiums that millions of Californians will face when a new state insurance marketplace opens this fall for those who don't get health benefits through their employer.

These Internet-based marketplaces, known as exchanges, are a centerpiece of the Affordable Care Act. Proponents hope they will make it easier for consumers to shop for health plans.

Insurers selling plans on these exchanges will have to cover a basic set of benefits and will be required for the first time to offer coverage to consumers with preexisting medical conditions.

Millions of low- and moderate-income Americans who make less than four times the federal poverty level — about $46,000 for a single person — will qualify for government subsidies to offset the cost of their premiums.

But less than four months before these marketplaces are to open nationwide, many of the law's supporters fear that the exchanges may not be ready or that premiums may be unaffordable.

Polls also show high public distrust of the law: 49% of respondents in a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey said the law was a "bad idea," compared with just 37% who said it was a "good idea."

Adding to supporters' concern is resistance from Republican leaders in dozens of states who have refused to operate exchanges, leaving the job wholly or partly to the federal government. Only 16 states and the District of Columbia will run their own exchanges.

But California, which has enthusiastically implemented the law, helped allay some anxiety by reporting that the cost of the health plans sold on its exchange, known as Covered California, would be substantially lower than expected.

Average premiums will vary widely depending on the age of a consumer and where he or she lives.

A 25-year-old in northern Los Angeles County, for example, will be able to buy a "catastrophic" plan with a $6,350 deductible for $117 a month. A 40-year-old in Sacramento, on the other hand, could pay as much as $687 a month for a top-shelf plan with few out-of-pocket expenses.

Those prices would be substantially less for consumers who qualify for subsidies.

The 2014 premiums are still higher than many bare-bones plans available now. The average monthly premium for eHealthInsurance plans sold in California last year was $177 a month.

But virtually no current plans cover as many benefits as will be included in all plans next year. And hundreds of thousands of consumers with preexisting medical conditions cannot even get a plan under current law, which allows insurers to turn away anyone who is sick.

christi.parsons@latimes.com

noam.levey@latimes.com

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