Covered California to raise rates an average 13 percent

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Covered California officials say health care premiums are going up in 2017 by a statewide average of 13.2 percent, about three times the increase last year.

"We would rather have no increase, but this is about health care still being expensive in America," said Peter Lee, Executive Director of Covered California.

Lee said there are several reasons for the spike in premium prices. He says one is the rising costs of specialty prescription drugs. Another factor is the expiring federal subsidy program that helped lower the premiums people paid.

"We've always known that 2017 was going to be a transition year and the Affordable Care Act put in place a federal subsidy program for the health plans to keep rates low," Lee said, "That goes away in  2017."

For many Californians in the Bay Area, there are concerns about rising costs. Aliyah Watson knows what it's like to have no health insurance. She lost hers when her father passed away and knows the struggle of trying to find affordable health coverage with the Bay Area's already high cost of living.

"Especially out here with all the increases in rent and everything else here, that is something that really does not need to go up," Watson said, "People with decent salaried jobs still aren't able to get the basic things just because of that."

Watson landed at LifeLong Ashby Community Health Center, which counsels people on qualifying for the expanded Medi-Cal and Covered California health insurance programs under the Affordable Health Care Act, also referred to as Obamacare.

The rate increases will vary by insurance company and by region. In the Bay Area, the highest average rate increase is in San Francisco (14.8%), followed by Contra Costa County (13.6%), the North Bay region (12.5%), Alameda County (12.3%) San Mateo County (11.7%) and Santa Clara County (9.2%).

"It's going to make it harder for people on the lower end to buy those coverages," said Marty Lynch, the LifeLong Medical Care Executive Director, who says one impact would be clinics and hospitals end up picking up the bills and facing increased costs if people can't afford insurance, "A smaller group of people will get coverage through Covered California and they'll be uninsured when they come to us."

Shantel Harris of Oakland says she is worried about her friend's family, who's wondering how they'll pay for the increased rate.

"Eight hundred dollars a month, which I know a lot of people don't have," Harris said, "I feel like we all need health coverage, no matter how much we make or how much we have."

Covered California officials say while health insurance companies are increasing rates, there are also new plans entering the market, so they suggest people shop around to make sure their plan best fits their needs and budgets.