Screenshot from, the website of Covered California.
Screenshot from, the website of Covered California.

As you likely know by now, the deadline to sign up for health insurance is Monday — at least in California. (The federal government announced on Tuesday night it would give certain consumers more time, but Covered California has not yet extended the deadline here.)

KQED’s Forum devoted an hour Tuesday to taking listener calls about the Affordable Care Act. They invited Emily Bazar, who answers questions about Obamacare in her regular column for the Center for Health Reporting, and me to answer questions.

Bazar and I have teamed up before on Forum and the questions that come up are always surprising. Here I list 5 points raised in the show that you might want to know before completing sign up.

1. The Penalty. Some folks are exempt from paying the penalty, but those who must pay will be dinged either $95 or 1 percent of income. Here’s the catch — it’s whichever amount is greater. In other words, if you earn more than $9,500 per year, you will likely pay a fine of 1 percent of your income if you do not have health insurance. If you make $30,000, you’ll pay about $300. If you earn $50,000, you’ll pay about $500, and so on.

Anyone who signs up by March 31 will not be penalized.  

2. What Is a ‘Household’? Subsidies are calculated according to household income — that’s “household” according to your tax filing status. For example, if you declare your adult son as a dependent, he then must declare your income if he is applying for a subsidy on Covered California. Conversely, if you live with your adult daughter, but neither claims the other as a dependent, then you would both apply separately — and according to your individual incomes — on Covered California.

3. Signing Up in Person:  In addition to the online option for sign up on, you can also enroll in person in one of three ways:

Certified Insurance Agent — these are insurance brokers who are specifically trained in Covered California plans. You do not pay for their services. Insurance companies pay their commissions.

Certified Enrollment Counselors — these people are often affiliated with a community group, and they too have been trained in Covered California plans.

County Human Services Agencies — these are county staff who can help you.

I’ve haven’t heard from many people who have signed up in a county office. But I have heard from people who come down pro or con on both agents and certified counselors. Certified Insurance Agents say they are the professionals, they are best positioned to help you, that counselors cannot possibly have the degree of professional experience they do. Certified Enrollment Counselors say agents don’t know the communities on the ground, and they are better suited to educate and enroll people who are uninsured.

In any case, you can pick for yourself. Visit this Covered California site to find help near you.

Alternatively, you can go to a sign up “event” — where there will be many people helping and many people trying to enroll. There are many of them, across the state, leading up to the deadline.

4. I Make Too Much Money to Qualify for A Subsidy — Must I Use Covered California? In short, no. You can visit any health insurance broker, you can call any plan directly to see what choices they have for you, or you can use a private online exchange, such as

But note well — if your income fluctuates, say, declines enough for you to qualify for a subsidy later in the year — then you must be enrolled in a Covered California plan now.

You can adjust your income up or down any time during the year by logging on to your Covered California account and making the change. Your subsidy will be adjusted from there.

5. What Happens if I Lose My Job — and My Insurance?   Loss of a job is a “qualifying life event,” which triggers a “special enrollment period.” Other qualifying events include marriage or birth (or adoption) of a child. The special enrollment period extends 60 days starting from the date of the event.

If you have other questions, be sure to check KQED’s Obamacare Guide — Just for Californians.

5 Things You Might Not Know About Obamacare 27 March,2014Lisa Aliferis

  • Anthony


    My mouth is short of words, i am so so happy because Dr Ekpiku has healed me from HIV ailment which i have been suffering from the past 5 years now, i have spend alot when getting drugs from the hospital to keep me healthy, i have tried all means in life to always i can become Hiv negative one day, but there was no answer until i found Dr Ekpiku the paris of african who provide me some healing spell that he uses to help me, now i am glad telling everyone that i am now HIV Negative, i am very very happy, thank you Dr Ekpiku for helping my life comes back newly without any form of crisis, may the good lord that i serve blessed you Dr Ekpiku and equip you to the higher grade for healing my life. i am so amazed. so i will announced to everyone in this whole world that is HIV positive to please follow my advice and get healed on time, because we all knows that HIV disease is a deadly type,contact Dr Ekpiku for your Hiv healing spell today at:…. He will be always happy to assist you online and ensure you get healed on time, contact Dr Ekpiku today for your healing spell immediately, thank you sir :


Lisa Aliferis

Lisa Aliferis is the founding editor of KQED’s State of Health blog. Since 2011, she’s been writing and editing stories for the site. Before taking up blogging, she toiled for many years (more than we can count) producing health stories for television, including Dateline NBC and San Francisco’s CBS affiliate, KPIX-TV. She also wrote up a handy guide to the Affordable Care Act, especially for Californians. Her work has been honored for many awards. Most recently she was a finalist for “Best Topical Reporting” from the Online News Association. You can follow her on Twitter: @laliferis

State of Health Sponsored by

Become a KQED sponsor