Covered California Enrollment Update

Covered California will allow consumers to apply for health coverage from Feb. 23 to April 30 if they claim to have been unaware of the new tax penalty for not having insurance.

The original open enrollment period went from Nov. 15 to Feb. 15.

For the first time this year, people filing taxes this year may be hit with a penalty for not having health insurance. The fine is based on personal income.

If you are a consumer who has been unaware of the new tax penalty for not having medical insurance and you would like more information about the Covered California program, you may contact our office at 858-361-0734, or contact the Covered California Service Center at 800-300-1506.

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Voluntary Benefits Are Growing

Voluntary benefits (benefits purchased at work) grew 9 percent in 2013.

Voluntary health product sales experienced a 13 percent increase from the prior year. Accident, critical illness and vision products grew by double-digits for the third straight year. Life insurance sales rebounded in the fourth quarter. Total life sales increased 14 percent in the fourth quarter to end the year up 2 percent. A survey of 800 employers revealed the impact of the Affordable Care Act (ACA.) Three out of four employers said they have changed or intend to change their medical plan design in the near future. Cost shifting is the most common strategy among the surveyed employers. Sixty percent said they have already or plan to increase employee contributions to the cost of coverage.

With cost shifting and other plan design changes, voluntary benefits become the best option for employees to maintain their overall insurance coverage. Research has found that more than 60 percent of employees prefer to buy health and life insurance benefits at work. Employees like using payroll deduction.


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California Assembly Bill 1838 lets doctors graduate faster

State of California Governor Brown signed legislation recently that will allow students at accredited medical schools in California to complete their education in three years instead of four. The goal of Assembly Bill 1838 is to meet the high demand for doctors that has been created by federal health care reform. Accelerated educational programs focus on the achievement of individual and academic skills for students who demonstrate a high level of scientific and medical understanding. Currently California faces an extreme shortage of trained medical residents and physicians. The bill takes affect in January 2015. This bill is considered an important step in addressing California’s primary care physician shortage.

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California Medical Insurance Update

Alarm clockIn California, small employers had the choice in 2013 to opt for “early renewal” of their coverage at the end of 2013. This allowed small employers to keep their current, non ACA-compliant plans or policies until late 2014.

On July 7, 2014, Governor Brown signed into law SB 1446. This law permits small group employers with “early renewal” or “grandmothered” plans that were in force as of 12/31/2013, and are still in effect on 7/7/2014, to renew until 1/1/2015 and remain in force until 12/31/2015.

Health plan contracts and insurance policies renewed under SB 1446 are exempt from some ACA provisions such as rating limitations, requirements to provide essential health benefits, and affordable care act mandated limitations on out of pocket expenses & deductibles.

It is important to compare “grandmothered” plan rates and benefits with ACA-compliant plans in order to know the best plan for each small employer’s unique situation.

For information about how options for early renewal may effect you, contact us at 858-361-0735.


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First Comes Love, Then Comes Insurance?

Bridal bouquet close up and blurred newlywedsAs unpredictable as life may seem, if you step back and look at the big picture, you’ll see it tends to flow in an orderly fashion. You’re born, go to school, find a job, get married, have children, and so on.

In many ways, your insurance needs follow an equally predictable path. In fact, they tend to change in lockstep with many common life events:

Marriage: When you’re just starting out, your primary financial concern is usually income replacement. Since you haven’t had much time to save, term life insurance can be an affordable first step for many newlyweds.

Adding a child: As your family grows, so do your responsibilities. Not only do you have more mouths to feed, but a host of future expenses – such as college – to consider. Permanent life insurance can address both needs by giving you dependable, lasting protection, plus the growth potential of cash value.

Changing careers: When you switch jobs, chances are any life insurance you had through your employer will come to an end. Buying an individual policy before you leave will eliminate any gap in coverage, and give you the freedom to take your coverage with you wherever you go.

Transition to retirement: There are many reasons to add permanent life insurance prior to retirement. Not only are you likely to lose your employer-sponsored coverage (see above) but you can also use the cash value to help pay retirement expenses. Having life insurance at the time of retirement may also allow you to enjoy the higher monthly payments of a single life pension (since your spouse will have a death benefit to live on after you are gone).

Creation of an estate: In addition to paying final expenses and eliminating outstanding debts, life insurance can help you leave behind a substantial legacy. Even if you have no other assets, your death benefit is a tax-free give that can make a real difference to your loved ones – or favorite charity.

If you are about to experience these common or major life events, please give me (Larry Cook) a call at 858-361-0734 for assistance you may require. That way you can make sure that your life – and life insurance are headed in the same direction.

Larry Cook specializes in life, health, disability and long term care insurance planning for individuals, families and businesses. Larry has an ability to offer multiple types of insurance coverage from many different insurance companies. Larry’s motto is to tailor the insurance plan to the individual’s needs, preferences, and budget.

“There is no need to shop, we shop for you.”

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The High Cost of Turning 50

With people living longer these days, turning 50 no longer feels like a big deal.

We hear it all the time – 50 is the new 40, right?

In fact, many people look forward to their fifties, when they’re well established in their careers, their children are grown and they have more time to get out and enjoy life.

But did you know that there can be a high price to turning 50?

I’m not talking about wrinkles, aching joints or the price of enduring the occasional mid-life crisis.

I’m talking about the huge rise in insurance premiums.

Between the ages of 49 and 50, the cost of long-term care insurance takes a sizable jump.

Business Chart SkyrocketingThe best time to buy long-term care is before your good health or age changes.

50 may be the new 40, but it costs a lot more when you reach the big 5-0.

Now, I know what you’re saying:

“I’m perfectly healthy!  I don’t want to think about long-term care insurance in my forties.”

But the truth is, that’s exactly the time you should be thinking about it.  Before it gets too expensive.

The cost of long-term care is on the rise. In 2012, in San Diego County, the average cost of one year of care in a nursing home facility with a private room was $92,710.

And since 2012, that number has continued to rise by approximately 7% annually.

Imagine what it might cost when you actually need it. 


Think about it this way:

  • You wouldn’t think of being without home owners’ insurance, yet your chances of losing your home to fire is approximately 1 in 1,200.
  • You wouldn’t think of being without automobile insurance and yet your chances of being in an auto accident are approximately 1 in 280.

Why would you consider being without long-term care insurance when your chances of needing long-term care services after age 65 are approximately 3 in 5?

Financial planning involves much more than owning a house or saving for retirement.  It involves a complete strategy to ensure that your family and finances are protected – and the earlier you start, the better.

Photo via: Bigstock/msv


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Covered California Creates Limited Special Enrollment Period For Californians Covered By COBRA

California consumers have a limited window to switch to an exchange plan through Covered California.  Beginning May 15, 2014 Covered California will offer a limited time special enrollment period for people who have COBRA health insurance, either federal COBRA or Cal-COBRA, and would like to switch to an exchange plan.  The window for this limited special enrollment period is from May 15, 2014 – July 15, 2014.

For some people who have COBRA or Cal-COBRA coverage currently, a Covered California Individual Market Plan MAY be preferable because of premium assistance and cost sharing reductions available through Covered California.  In some cases individuals and families can buy more affordable coverage in the Covered California exchange.  This limited special enrollment category is in addition to the regular qualifying life events special enrollment periods that allow consumers to get exchange coverage during a time when open enrollment is not available.  Other events in the special enrollment list of qualifying events include: losing coverage, having a child, getting married, and moving.

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What is a Medical Insurance Exchange?

Shop for Healthcare at Exchange

A Medical Insurance Exchange is an online marketplace where people can compare policies side by side, and buy health insurance.  The public exchanges allow applicants to determine whether they qualify for government subsidies.
For 2014, open enrollment started October 1st, and runs through March 31st.  Coverage begins in January, 2014.

The affordable health care act requires almost all Americans to have health insurance, or pay a penalty to the government.  The penalty starts at $95 in 2014, but increases to at least $695 by 2016.  In the public exchanges, premium subsidies are available for individuals earning up to $46,000 annually, and for families, premium subsidies are available with incomes up to $94,200.

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Agents Help Consumers in Complex Health Insurance Marketplace

KatieandLarryCookPhotoMany insurance agents in California are taking the time to participate in training regarding the public health insurance marketplace.  Agents are continuing to serve clients with expert advice on health insurance plans that will be available in the individual and group marketplace.  Agents will provide assistance and service beyond just enrolling for a health insurance plan.

Consumers benefit from the expertise that brokers and agents provide in servicing the plan throughout the year.  Insurance agents are helping to reduce confusion among consumers in how the Affordable Health Care Act will affect them.  Agents can help small business owners understand the cost and requirements under the law and what plans will be available to their businesses.  Agents need to be involved, or costumer service could be missing in the health care reform effort.  We would like to offer the opportunity to be of service to you.

For more information on how we can assist you in the health insurance marketplace, please contact Larry Cook at, and/or 858-361-0734, or Katie Cook at, and/or 858-361-0735.  Please also feel free to visit the health insurance dedicated website or send an email to

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Costs to Consider in Retirement

Calculate CostsHave you considered how much some basic needs will cost you in retirement, such as health care?  Did you know that a 65-year-old couple that retired in 2012 need about $240,000 to cover medical expenses throughout retirement?

The rising cost of health care in the United States has become one of the primary risks to a financially secure retirement.  Health care costs are expected to continue increasing faster than inflation.

Costs to consider include:

  • Long-term care services:  How will you pay for any needed long-term care services?  Do you have long-term care insurance?
  • Health Care Costs: Do you know what your out-of-pocket health-care costs might be after you retire?  Are you aware that Medicare, while it covers man health-care costs, has significant limitations?  Are you familiar with the various types of insurance that can help pay health and long-term care costs not covered by Medicare?
  • Life Expectancy: In 2011, men reaching age 65 had an average additional life expectancy of 17.3 years, while woman reaching age 65 could expect to live an additional 20.0 years on average.
  • About one-third of individuals who turned 65 in 2010 will need at least three months of nursing home care, 24% will need more than a year, and 9% more than five years.
  • The average daily rate in 2012 for a private room in a nursing home was $248.
  • The average length of a nursing home stay is 835 days.
  • At an average daily rate of $248, an average nursing home stay of 835 days currently costs over $207,000.

Concerned about potential costs in your retirement?  Consider contacting Cook & Cook Associates for a complimentary Retirement Planning consultation.

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10 Things Every Business Should Know About Healthcare Reform

Questions about healthcared1     Consult a Knowledgeable Insurance Professional

A licensed health insurance broker, serving as your consultant, can be valuable to you in understanding the facts of health reform.

2    Public and Private Health “Exchanges” Come Online

Open enrollment is scheduled to begin in October of 2013 for Health Insurance Exchanges, with coverage effective January 2014.  Private health insurance exchanges are also expanding to offer businesses and employees more choices for coverage at an affordable rate.

3    Health Plans Will Be Classified in “Metal” Categories

Health insurance plans will receive a metal rating- Platinum, Gold, Silver or Bronze- based on “actuarial value” calculations.  For example, Platinum plans will provide coverage for 90 percent of costs while policyholders pay 10 percent.  Bronze plans would offer 60 percent coverage while policyholders would pay the remaining 40 percent of medical costs out-of-pocket.

4    Tax Credits for Small Employers

Employers with fewer than 25 employees and average annual wages of less than $50,000 may claim a tax credit for the cost of providing insurance beginning with 2011 tax returns.  Beginning in 2014 this tax credit is only available to eligible small employers who purchase coverage through the Exchange.

5    W-2 Reporting

Businesses that issued 250 or more W-2’s in 2011 must begin to report on 2012 W-2’s (issued Jan. 2013) the aggregate value of health benefits provided to each employee including medical, dental, and vision coverage.

6    “Essential Health Benefits” Defined

Beginning in 2014, health plans must provide coverage for a minimum set of products and services in the following 10 categories: outpatient services, emergency services, hospitalization, maternity and newborn care, mental health and substance abuse disorder services, prescription drugs, rehabilitative services and devices, laboratory services, preventive and chronic disease services and pediatric services including oral and vision care.

7    Requirement to Inform Employees

Beginning in 2013, employers must provide each employee with written information on the employer health plan, health exchanges, available subsidies for insurance and guidelines on how to purchase insurance.  Further guidance is scheduled for release in late summer, early Fall of 2013, postponed from the original March 2013 deadline.

8    Automatic Enrollment

Employers with more than 200 employees must automatically enroll employees in employer-sponsored plans; however, the IRS has said that rules for this requirement will not be issued until 2014.

9    Limits on Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs)

Beginning January 1, 2013, FSAs, which allow employees to save tax-free dollars that can be used to pay medical expenses not covered by insurance plans, will have a plan year limit of $2,500 in 2013 (indexed for cost of living adjustments after 2013).

10  Employer Play or Pay

Beginning in 2015, employers with 50 or more full-time equivalent employees will pay a penalty fee if they do not offer health coverage or if they offer coverage which is not affordable or doesn’t have minimum value (60%) and at least one full-time employee receives a premium subsidy.

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Retirement Planning Should Include Social Security Claiming Decision Strategy

Social Security - Yes or noWhen to take Social Security Benefits can affect a client’s financial bottom line.  When you elect Social Security is one of the most important decisions you will make in your retirement life.  When you claim benefits will impact the amount of income you receive, the amount of taxes you will pay, and how you utilize your other retirement assets.

A financial advisor can help you develop a strategy to maximize your benefits.  The importance of having a strategy and making an informed decision is critical as once you claim, your benefits become permanent after twelve months; there are no “do-over’s”.

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Health Law Offers Some Consumers Help Paying Deductibles and Co-Pays

Health Care Law Offers HelpThe Affordable Health Care Act will provide financial assistance for some people who buy plans on the market places known as “exchanges” for plans effective January 1, 2014.

Cost sharing subsidies can substantially reduce the deductibles, co-payments, co-insurance, and total out of pocket spending limits for people with incomes up to two hundred fifty percent of the poverty level ($58,875 for a family of four in two thousand thirteen).  These reductions can be an important consideration for lower income consumers when choosing their coverage.

Cost sharing reductions will be applied automatically for consumers based on their income if they buy a Silver Level plan.  Silver plans are one of four plans that will be sold on the exchanges.  A Silver Plan will generally pay seventy percent of covered medical expenses.  In California, a standard Silver Plan will have a $2,000 deductible, and have a $6,400 maximum out of pocket limit.  In addition, people with incomes up to two hundred fifty percent of the poverty level will qualify for premium subsidies as well, based on that income level.

Consumers should remember, the cost sharing subsidies apply to in-network expenses only.

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Safety Net Concerns?

Safety Net ConcernsMany consumers have expressed concerns about the safety of entitlement programs.  Some have expressed concerns about the future of social security.  There are concerns about future funding for social security and the call by some politicians for means testing as a way to reduce social security payments.

Clients can address these concerns by creating a backup plan.  One strategy that clients can employ is to utilize life insurance to address a shortfall in benefits if a future full means test excludes them from having the benefits they thought they would have.  Life insurance can contribute to a family’s financial security regardless of what happens to entitlement programs in the future.

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A Fixed Index Annuity Can Help Reduce Your Risk

Reduce RiskThough investors have been getting great returns with bonds, and more recently with equities, one should always consider looming investment risks.

What happens if inflation goes up?
What happens if stocks decline or interest rates rise? 

As a protection from market volatility and inflation or interest rate risk, rebalancing into a fixed indexed annuity might be the answer to reduce these risks.  Fixed indexed annuities reduce interest rate risk, lower volatility, and provide better inflation protection than cash.  Most clients nearing retirement need to reduce market volatility.  Annuity cash value offers growth potential linked to a market index with no downside risk.

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Affordable Care Act: What You Should Know Today

Businesswoman shrugging, isolated on white backgroundMost of the law will be in effect January 1, 2014.

What happens to the uninsured?

There will be a Medicaid expansion for those individuals making less than $16,000 per year.

For individual higher earners, there will be tax credits available on the online exchanges.

Businesses with more than 50 employees won’t be required to cover their full time employees until 2015.

There will be more preventative services and wellness incentives.

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Involve Your Teen in College Planning

graduating student - girl sally Advisor Today’s Teen’s Take Action explains the level of a teen’s interest in their own college funding.  If you have child who will be attending college within the next 5 to 10 years; Cook & Cook Associates can assist you with planning strategies & information for how to prepare for college funding.  Contact us at or by phone at 858-361-0735 or 858-361-0734.

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Individual Penalty Transition Relief (Affordable Health Care Act)

Calculator and money - accounting conceptIndividual Penalty Transition Relief for Those Eligible to Enroll in Employer-Sponsored Coverage with a Plan Year That Begins in 2013 and ends in 2014   

Because many employer-sponsored plans have non-calendar plan years, there have been questions regarding how to make plan decisions that effect businesses with employees and/or dependents who waived employer-sponsored coverage but would need to have minimum essential coverage beginning January 1, 2014 in order to avoid the Individual Shared Responsibility Payment (i.e. individual penalty).   IRS Notice 2013-42, issued Wednesday 6/26/2013, addresses these questions and provides an employee, or an individual with a relationship to the employee, who is eligible to enroll in a non-calendar year employer-sponsored plan with a plan year beginning in 2013 and ending in 2014 will not be liable for the individual penalty until the end of the 2013-2014 plan year. Thus, employees and dependents that choose to wait until the 2014-2015 plan year to enroll in coverage will not be subject to the individual penalty for the months in 2014 that are part of the 2013-2014 plan year.

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Baby Boomer Aftermath

Couple holding hands.Financial Planning is more important than ever for the 78.2 million people labeled “baby boomers” (those born between 1946 and 1964). Part of the reason is we have a lot of Baby Boomers who are dealing with aging parents. In addition, those same boomers have lived through two huge setbacks in the stock market the last 12 years. Finally, boomers are concerned about the consequences of living longer and the resulting reality that they will likely live longer without a continuing employment based source of income. Utilizing the services of a trusted insurance & financial advisor can help boomers prepare for & navigate their future financial life in a positive way.

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Health Insurance Education

stethoscope on red book isolated on white backgroundCovered California, the states’ health insurance exchange, announced $ 37 million in grants the week of May 14, 2013 to begin the massive task of educating millions of Californians about the new healthcare law. The grants will go to 48 organizations, including universities, non-profit groups, health foundations and unions. They will help state officials explain the new benefits, show people how to access insurance and encourage small businesses to enroll.

In October 2013, enrollment will begin in the state’s exchange through which people can buy insurance with federal subsidies. Consumers will be able to enroll by phone, on-line, in person, & by mail. The benefits will take effect in January 2014.

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