California emphasizes ObamaCare penalty

California’s health insurance exchange is reminding consumers that they will face a penalty under ObamaCare for remaining without coverage, a messaging tool to boost enrollment that other marketplaces have hesitated to embrace.

Covered California, one of the nation’s most successful exchanges, made no effort to downplay the individual mandate penalties that took effect last year and are set to rise in 2015. The marketplace is encouraging consumers to pick plans by Thursday, the deadline for insurance that kicks in Feb. 1.

“It’s important that consumers understand now that the cost of remaining uninsured is rising,” Covered California Executive Director Peter V. Lee said in a statement Tuesday. “This year, a family of four earning $70,000 a year could pay close to $1,000 in their taxes if they remain uninsured in 2015.”

Studies found that emphasizing the individual mandate helped raise total ObamaCare enrollment for 2014, though the administration’s closest allies say they prefer to sell consumers on the benefits of joining the exchanges.

California’s messaging push comes as tax preparers gird for confusion during this year’s filing season – the first time consumers will have to attest to whether they had health insurance, and in some cases, pay a fine.

California officials noted that the individual mandate penalties will rise dramatically between 2014, 2015 and 2016.

“This is an important message that should be heard by Californians of all income levels,” said Toby Douglas, director of the California Department of Health Care Services in a statement.

“Applying for coverage not only gives you an opportunity to get comprehensive health care; it can help you avoid a penalty that could hurt you and your family.”

Under the healthcare law, people without medical coverage in 2014 will pay $95 per person or 1 percent of annual household income. If an individual remains uninsured in 2015, he or she will pay $325 or 2 percent of annual household income.

Covered California also reported Tuesday that more than 1,099,200 people were determined eligible or picked healthcare plans as of Jan. 11.

“We’re continuing to see strong interest in enrolling in coverage as open enrollment continues, but there are still hundreds of thousands of Californians who need to sign up,” Lee said.

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