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Individuals & Families

California’s Health Insurance Marketplace

Last updated October 2019

It can be overwhelming to find the right health plan for you and your family. Before you get started, it is important to understand your options.

Our staff at OnlyHealthInsurance is fully informed about health care reform. As insurance brokers we went through extensive training in preparation for the health care reform launch. We gained a great deal of experience from the first open enrollment period. Couple this with over 25 years of working in the individual and family health insurance market in California, and we have become a leading expert and producer in this market.

The information below is a summary of some of the important aspects of the California insurance market. I hope you find it useful in your research.

Before purchasing coverage, please click here to check out our new explanatory video.

Health Care Reform

Health care reform brought with it several changes to the healthcare system. Starting January 1, 2014, denying coverage or charging higher premiums to anyone with a pre-existing condition is prohibited. Other significant reforms have been made such as expanded preventive care services; dependents are now able to stay on a parent’s insurance plan until age 26, and removal of annual and lifetime coverage maximums. Carriers are also required to spend at least 80% of premium dollars directly on health care.

Two Ways to Enroll

California has two marketplaces or exchanges in which to obtain ACA-compliant health insurance, the Public Exchange or the Private Exchange.


Effective Jan. 1, 2020, Californians must carry qualifying health insurance coverage throughout the year or be subject to a penalty.

While the individual mandate penalty was rescinded on the federal level for 2019, it is being restored at the state level for 2020. Under the new state mandate, those without qualifying health insurance could face a financial penalty unless they qualify for an exemption. Generally speaking, a taxpayer who fails to secure coverage will be subject to a penalty of $695 per adult or 2.5 percent of household income, whichever is larger. (The penalty for a dependent child is half of what it would be for an adult). Qualified coverage can be obtained from both the Public (CoveredCA) and Private marketplaces.

Public Exchange 

Covered California is the public marketplace or “on-exchange” and is the market in which premium subsidies and cost sharing reduction assistance is available for those who qualify. Eligibility for assistance is based on ZIP code, household size and their projected household income.


California is implementing a new state subsidy program which is estimated to qualify 235,000 more Californians for assistance in paying insurance premiums who previously did not qualify. The income limits for the subsidy are higher than the federal ACA premium tax credit subsidy. Where the federal subsidy provided assistance to households with incomes under 400% of the federal poverty line, the state program will provide subsidies to households with incomes between 400% and 600% of the federal poverty level. Subsidies are only available to those who enroll through CoveredCalifornia, the state’s public marketplace.

This market is managed through the CoveredCA website,, where one can register, disclose required personal and financial information, compare plans, and enroll in coverage. Enrollment support is available from CoveredCA representatives, some insurance brokers, and registered navigators. To find out if you qualify for assistance, click here to use CoveredCA’s Shop and Compare tool. NOTE: If you do not qualify, but still enroll through CoveredCA, you may qualify for a subsidy if income drops below 600% of the poverty line during the year.

 If you qualify for financial assistance and wish to take advantage of it, contact CoveredCA directly at 1-800-300-1506 or their web site:

Private Exchange

The other marketplace is called the private market or “off exchange” market, where coverage can be obtained directly from an insurance carrier. There is no financial assistance available in this market. Because of this, less information is required in the application making the process much simpler. Also, some carriers have chosen not to participate in CoveredCA, or offer only certain types of plans. The result is more carrier choices and plan options are available in the private market in some areas. For those who don’t qualify for financial assistance and are not likely to in the coming year, or those who prefer not to enroll through CoveredCA, we recommend enrolling through the Private marketplace.

After careful consideration OnlyHealthInsurance has concluded that the best way we
can be of service to consumers is by offering plans through the Private Exchange.

How OnlyHealthInsurance Can Help

If you are considering individual or family health insurance, have decided to enroll in a private exchange plan, or are not sure what type of plan you’re eligible for, we hope you will contact us for assistance. After understanding your personal circumstances and health insurance needs, we can make an assessment and recommendation for the most appropriate solution. If it is determined that applying through CoveredCA is your best option, we will tell you, are refer you to CoveredCA or a registered representative.

For comparisons and quotes for private market plans, please click Get a Quote. You can also schedule a phone appointment with us by clicking here.



Additional Information 

Grandfathered Plans
If you have individual insurance that started on or before the Affordable Care Act was passed (March 23, 2010) and has stayed the same since, your plan is said to be “Grandfathered” and you may keep it indefinitely if you so choose. Grandfathered plans do not have to comply with all of the mandates outlined in the new healthcare reform law (ACA). Note: Consider your options carefully before terminating or replacing a grandfathered plan. They offer some advantages over the reform plans (non-grandfathered) and once terminated you cannot get it back.

Eligibility for Insurance

Legal residents of California may be eligible to buy health coverage through CoveredCA and receive financial assistance. Those unlawfully present in CA may still qualify for some assistance. Legal residents of California are also eligible to buy health coverage through the private market exchange.

Open Enrollment

Each year there is an annual open enrollment period (AEP) when consumers can research, change, and enroll in a health plan for the following plan year. For the 2019 plan year, the open enrollment period runs from October 15, 2018 through January 15, 2019. To be eligible for a January 1, 2019 effective date, you must enroll no later than December 15, 2018.

Special Enrollment

If you have a life-changing event, such as the loss of a job, a move, a marriage or divorce, or the birth of a child, then you may qualify for “special enrollment” in either Covered California or the private marketplace. The special enrollment period runs 60 days before and 60 after the date of the life event. An application with supporting documentation of the life event must be submitted during this time period for successful enrollment. Insurance carriers may have additional rules and documentation requirements for enrollment so it’s important to check with your broker.

Essential Benefits

All individual health insurance plans offered through the health insurance marketplace cover a comprehensive set of benefits known as “essential health benefits.” All newly sold health insurance plans — whether sold through CoveredCA or in the private marketplace — will cover these services.

They include the following 10 categories:

  • ambulatory patient services
  • emergency services
  • hospitalization
  • maternity and newborn care
  • mental health and substance use disorder services, including behavioral health treatment
  • prescription drugs
  • rehabilitative and habilitative services and devices
  • laboratory services
  • preventive and wellness services and chronic disease management
  • pediatric services, including oral and vision care

In addition to the essential health benefits, all health plans are offered with standard benefit designs so you can make apples-to-apples comparisons between plans.

Standard Benefit Designs

Plans must fall into four categories of coverage based on the overall percentage of cost-sharing of the plan: platinum level at 90%, gold level at 80%, silver level at 70%, and bronze level at 60%, as well as a catastrophic plan for individuals under 30 years old. Each category of plan must cover the essential benefits mentioned above, but with co-insurance, deductibles, and copays to correspond to the level of coverage. The private marketplace offers these same standard designs as well as other plan options that meet the benefit level cost sharing requirements. Click here to see the 2020 Standard Benefit Designs and Medical Cost Shares.