As the year comes to a close and everyone’s focus has turned to the holiday season and the upcoming new year, there is still one very important date to be aware of—Dec.15—the first critical deadline for consumers to apply for healthcare coverage with Covered California.

Though open enrollment will continue through Jan. 31, 2018, individuals who want coverage that begins on Jan. 1 will need to adhere to this Friday’s deadline and may also benefit from lower prices.

A new analysis has found that the net monthly premiums for the 85 percent of Covered California enrollees who get financial help — the price they will pay after a plan’s premium is discounted by the federal subsidy — is an average of 10 percent less than new and renewing consumers paid last year. 

Open enrollment for health plans began Nov. 1, and through Nov. 30 the data showed that the average net price for plans selected by new and renewing consumers this year was $120 per month, down from $134 per month at this point last year.  And, for those who selected a bronze plan, the average cost for 2018 was only $45 per month, compared to $87 in 2017.

“When you do the math, hundreds of thousands of Californians are the winners – getting quality coverage at lower rates than last year,” said Peter V. Lee, executive director of Covered California. “Consumers are finding out they can get quality coverage for less than they expect.”

The experience of an individual will vary based on their circumstance, including whether they get subsidies to help purchase coverage, where they live and the plan options they choose, Lee said.

This year is made a little strange by President Donald Trump’s decision to eliminate cost-sharing payments to health insurance companies, forcing Covered California to put a surcharge on silver-level plans. But, because 85 percent of the exchange’s 1.2 million enrollees receive subsidies from the federal government to help pay their premiums, and those subsidies increase as the price of plans increase, the effective cost increase has been minimal at most.

The analysis found that consumers who select a Silver-tier plan are on average paying $3 per month less than they were in 2017, while consumers who select a Gold-tier plan will pay on average $78 less per month.

Lee stressed that consumers must sign up by Dec. 15 to get covered for all of 2018. Free help to sign up is available on CoveredCA.com and you can find in-person help in your area through the website.

Despite all of the negative rhetoric coming out of the nation’s capital, Covered California has signed up 102,000 new consumers for coverage in November — the first month of California’s three-month open-enrollment period – which is substantially ahead of last year’s pace when more than 80,000 consumers signed up for coverage.

Lower prices are helping drive the enrollment surge, Lee said.

“Consumers are continuing to check out their options and take advantage of the lower prices for many enrolling and renewing in coverage,” Lee said.

While some might think that the plan to kill the individual mandate might somehow render all of the current enrollments moot, Lee said that’s not the case.

“The proposal in the Republican tax bill to halt the mandate stops it after 2018. There is no proposal that would say the penalty is going away for 2018,” Lee said.

The impact of the Affordable Care Act is obvious as a new survey from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows California’s uninsured rate dropped to 6.8 percent in first six months of 2017, down from 17 percent in 2013 — a new record low. Prior to the ACA, the uninsured rate was at 17 percent in 2013.

Since 2014, more than 3 million people have purchased health insurance through Covered California, and nearly 4 million have enrolled in the state’s Medi-Cal program.

Consumers interested in learning more about their coverage options should go to www.CoveredCA.com where they can get help to enroll. They can explore their options and find out if they qualify for financial help by using the “Shop and Compare” tool. They can also get free and confidential enrollment assistance by visiting www.coveredca.com/find-help/ and searching among 800 storefronts statewide or more than 17,000 certified enrollers who can assist consumers in understanding their choices and enrolling, including individuals who can assist in other languages. In addition, consumers can reach the Covered California service center by calling (800) 300-1506.