Health plan to ac­cept cash

Low-in­come peo­ple with­out bank ac­counts will be able to pay in­sur­ance pre­mi­ums at lo­cal stores.

Los Angeles Times - - LOS ANGELES - By Soumya Kar­la­mangla soumya.kar­la­mangla@la­times.com

With Oba­macare in its sec­ond year, health of­fi­cials are still work­ing out the kinks in ex­pand­ing health cov­er­age to mil­lions of Cal­i­for­ni­ans.

In the lat­est fix, mem­bers of a health plan for low-in­come Los An­ge­les County res­i­dents now can pay their pre­mi­ums with cash at neigh­bor­hood stores, a more con­ve­nient op­tion for some peo­ple with­out bank ac­counts.

“It re­ally is a tes­ta­ment to how far we’ve come in terms of the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the ACA that now we’re re­ally ad­dress­ing th­ese on-the­ground, ev­ery­day is­sues and bar­ri­ers,” said Amy Adams, se­nior pro­gram of­fi­cer for Cal­i­for­nia Health­Care Foun­da­tion’s Im­prov­ing Ac­cess team.

Roughly 4 mil­lion Cal­i­for­ni­ans have be­come in­sured un­der the na­tional health law, which re­quired nearly ev­ery­one to have health in­sur­ance start­ing in 2014. The state’s unin­sured pop­u­la­tion has dropped by half to 11%.

Con­sumer ad­vo­cates have long pushed for eas­ier ways for the work­ing poor to pay their in­sur­ance pre­mi­ums. A re­port re­leased be­fore the im­ple­men­ta­tion of Oba­macare last year found that 27% of Amer­i­cans and 19% of Cal­i­for­ni­ans who were unin­sured and el­i­gi­ble for sub­si­dies didn’t have bank ac­counts.

The in­sur­ance plan that rolled out the neigh­bor­hood cash pay­ment sys­tem this month, L.A. Care Cov­ered, is among those of­fered to pa­tients who are el­i­gi­ble for gov­ern­ment sub­si­dies through the state’s health cov­er­age ex­change, Cov­ered Cal­i­for­nia. Mem­bers can pay their pre­mi­ums at 1,953 stores in Cal­i­for­nia, in­clud­ing all 7-Elevens, by scan­ning a bar code linked to their ac­count.

“We’re very ex­cited,” said Laura Jaramillo, an L.A. Care Cov­ered of­fi­cial. “We feel that that’s go­ing to make it ex­tremely easy and con­ve­nient for them to pay their pre­mi­ums.”

Jaramillo said of­fi­cials hope a few thou­sand of the plan’s 17,000 Cov­ered Cal­i­for­nia mem­bers will use the new pay­ment op­tion. It’s not clear how many mem­bers lack bank ac­counts, she said, but about 40% mail in a money or­der, cashiers’ or per­sonal check, in­stead of pay­ing with a credit card on­line. An ad­di­tional num­ber also pay with a pre­paid debit card on­line, she said.

Be­fore the Af­ford­able Care Act took ef­fect last year, Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials or­dered health plans to ac­com­mo­date peo­ple who don’t have bank ac­counts by ac­cept­ing pa­per checks, cashier’s checks, money or­ders and pre­paid debit cards. They opted not to re­quire that they ac­cept cash, say­ing it would be too com­pli­cated. Man­agers at Cov­ered Cal­i­for­nia also dis­cussed re­quir­ing health plans to ac­cept cash pay­ments, but de­cided against it.

Danny Shader, founder and chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of PayNearMe, the com­pany part­ner­ing with the Los An­ge­les health plan, said that low-in­come peo­ple with­out bank ac­counts haven’t been able to ben­e­fit from in­no­va­tions in on­line pay­ments. “They’re, in fact, shut out of the dig­i­tal econ­omy,” he said.

Health plan mem­bers with­out bank ac­counts have typ­i­cally had to wait in line and pay a fee to get a money or­der or a cashier’s check. With the new pay­ment sys­tem, mem­bers pay no fees when they use cash to make a pre­mium pay­ment at a par­tic­i­pat­ing store.

In­stead, the health plan is charged a fee equiv­a­lent to a pay­ment for a credit card trans­ac­tion.

“It’s as quick as buy­ing a car­ton of milk,” Shader said.

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