New Obamacare enrollments in California top 217,000

California says 217,146 have newly enrolled in Obamacare through Jan. 11 as tax penalties loom

California's health insurance exchange said 217,146 people have newly signed up for Obamacare coverage after nearly two months of open enrollment.

The Covered California exchange said Tuesday the number of applications slowed during the holidays, but it remains confident of reaching its 2015 goal for health-law enrollment.

During the initial rollout of the Affordable Care Act, 1.2 million people had purchased a private health plan through Covered California.

State officials are trying to hold on to those existing policyholders and add about 500,000 more to finish open enrollment Feb. 15 with 1.7 million consumers.

Peter Lee, Covered California's executive director, declined again Tuesday to release figures on renewals even though the federal insurance marketplace has done so for weeks.

Lee said the state exchange is awaiting more data on how many people actually paid to renew coverage.

"Things look very strong on renewals," Lee said. "We are quite confident we will hit or beat the new enrollment goal."

Covered California previously reported that 144,178 people had newly enrolled in the first month of sign ups through Dec. 15. New enrollment dropped to 72,968 from Dec. 16 to Jan. 11, according to the state.

Lee said he expected a slowdown during the holidays, and the exchange had stopped advertising for that period. Ads resumed airing Jan. 5.

State officials also reported that 466,778 people have joined Medi-Cal, the state's Medicaid program for low-income people, since Nov. 15. That's in addition to the 2.2 million who had already enrolled in 2014 as part of the health-law expansion.

Medi-Cal enrollment is open year-round.

In addition to handling enrollment, California is preparing to send tax notices starting Jan. 20 to about 1 million consumers who received federal premium subsidies last year.

Consumers may have to repay some portion of that government assistance as part of their 2014 tax return if their income was higher than what they estimated during enrollment.

This will be the first time the Affordable Care Act affects tax season for millions of Americans nationwide and officials are bracing for the inevitable questions and confusion.

Covered California said it has increased its service-center staff to handle a late surge of enrollment and answer questions related to subsidies and taxes.

People who were uninsured last year also face penalties for the first time when filing their 2014 taxes.

Lee estimated that 1 million Californians may be subject to a penalty for lacking health insurance.

People can seek exemptions to the federal fines because of financial hardship or other reasons.

For the 2014 tax year, the penalty is $95 per adult or 1% of modified adjusted gross income, whichever is higher. Those penalties increase for 2015 to $325 per adult or 2% of income.

"How many are subject to the penalty depends on how many seek exemptions," Lee said. "Until we go through that process we won't know."

Twitter: @chadterhune

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