Obamacare enrollment ends March 31
If you haven't enrolled by the end of this month, it could be a long wait until the next enrollment period.
By*QuinStreet*Mon 2:03 PM
If you've been putting off shopping for health insurance for 2014, beware that you'll miss your chance if you wait too long.Open enrollment -- the time when you can purchase*an individual or individual family health plan*for this year -- will end March 31. This open enrollment period does not apply to people who buy their health insurance through work; your employer will still hold its own open enrollment period, usually in the fall.For those seeking individual plans, if you haven't bought a health plan by end of the day on March 31, then you'll have to wait until the next open enrollment period, unless you have a special circumstance, such as losing coverage at work or having a baby, and qualify for "special enrollment."The open enrollment for*2015 health plans*is set to run from Nov. 15, 2014, through Jan. 15, 2015.
You can enroll in Medicaid or the Children's Health Insurance Program, state and federal insurance programs for low-income families, at any time during the year -- but only if your income is low enough to qualify.Although a limited open enrollment period is customary for people covered by Medicare and for employees enrolling in health plans at work, it's a new concept for the individual health insurance market.A new way of doing thingsBefore this year, you could shop for an individual health plan at any time. But starting with 2014 health plans you're limited to purchasing coverage during the open enrollment period, which began Oct. 1, 2013."We caution consumers that it may take a while to get through the enrollment process, so they should start it as soon as they can," says Cheryl Fish-Parcham, deputy director of health policy at Families USA, a health care advocacy group.Through March 31, you can buy a health plan directly from an insurance company, health insurance agent, insurance website or through the government-run marketplace in your state. If you qualify for tax credits or cost-saving subsidies to make coverage more affordable, you must enroll through the government-run marketplace to get them.Health policy experts expect a rush to buy coverage as the open enrollment deadline nears, much as there was a surge at the end of December to buy coverage to begin Jan. 1."As there is tremendous media attention on that date, we'll see a similar phenomenon in March," says Sara Collins, vice president for health care coverage and access at the Commonwealth Fund, a foundation that supports an improved health care system.A Commonwealth Fund survey conducted in December 2013 found that 59 percent of people potentially eligible for coverage who had not yet enrolled in health insurance said they were likely to try to enroll in a plan or find out if they were eligible for financial help by the end of March.What's the deal with open enrollment?It's no coincidence that an open enrollment period was introduced as part of the Affordable Care Act. Starting this year, individual health plans must cover a set of standard benefits, and insurers cannot deny coverage or charge higher premiums for people with health conditions. The Affordable Care Act also requires almost everyone to have insurance this year.
A time period for enrollment was set to prevent people from waiting until they got sick to buy coverage, Collins says. Health insurers need a large pool of people -- not just those with illnesses - to buy coverage in order to spread risk and keep premiums low.If you miss the March 31 deadline to purchase coverage for 2014, you could get another chance to enroll if you have a special circumstance, known as a "qualifying life event." In most cases you have 60 days after the event to enroll.Those events include:Getting marriedHaving or adopting a childPermanently moving to a new area that offers different health plansLosing other health coverage because of job loss, divorce, loss of eligibility for Medicaid or the Children's Health Insurance Program, expiration of COBRA coverage or decertification of a health plan. (A plan is decertified if it no longer meets federal and state standards for health plans.) Losing coverage because you didn't pay the premiums does not qualify you for special enrollment.A change in your household that affects eligibility for tax credits or cost-sharing subsidies, if you're already enrolled in a marketplace plan.There will be a few plans available between March and November. Some insurers will still offer short-term and temporary health plans.This year's open enrollment period was purposely set longer to give the marketplaces, insurers and the public time to come to terms with the new rules.More from Insure.com:How to buy individual health insuranceCustomer satisfaction ratings of health insurance companiesHow to buy health insurance before March 31, 2014
What to Know About the March 31 Health Insurance Deadline
Obamacare open enrollment ends this month. Here's what you need to know if you haven't signed up.
the March 31 enrollment deadline approaches to sign up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, many consumers may be thinking, “another month, another Obamacare deadline.” But this date will be a defining one for consumers without affordable health insurance, as well as for the law’s critics and advocates. The March deadline will mark the end of the open enrollment period for consumers looking to purchase health insurance plans on the federal health insurance marketplace. After March 31, Americans without health care plans will have to pay theObamacare penalty. For the Obama administration, the enrollment numbers on that date will help to gauge the early impact of the president's signature health care law. Things are looking up since OctoberSome of the biggest criticism the Obama administration has faced since the law took effect has been centered on the botched rollout of healthcare.gov. The online marketplace has beenplagued with technical issues since it launched on Oct. 1, prompting outcry from both consumers and lawmakers. Users complained of outages, slow response times, error messages and system crashes. Consumers can expect a relatively smooth experience on the site now, though the administration has admitted that issues still persist. In December, the White House completed a series of fixes that allows the site to handle up to 50,000 users at once, and the system was working 90 percent of the time, according to a Health and Human Services report. Furthermore, about 4 million Americans have enrolled in health insurance plans through the federal and state exchanges since Oct. 1, the administration announced last week. This is a big jump from the approximately 106,000 Americans who enrolled in plans during the first month the online marketplace was open, signaling a turnaround from the earlier technical challenges with healthcare.gov and many of the state marketplace sites. Still a long way to goStill, the recent enrollment figures don’t come close to the 7 million Americans the White House originally projected would sign up for health care before the March 31 deadline. The Congressional Budget Office recently modified the estimation to 6 million, citing the glitches in the online marketplace.However, health care experts say there will likely be an increase in enrollment as the deadline nears, and last-minute shoppers search for plans.Another changing deadline? The enrollment deadline could be extended again for any number of reasons. The administration previously pushed back the deadline for those enrolling in coverage that would start on New Year’s Day from Dec. 15 to Dec. 23. Then, on Dec. 23, it extended the deadline another 24 hours. It has also extended deadlines for those with pre-existing conditions, as well as the employer mandate, a key provision of the law. In this case, employers with 50 to 99 employees were granted another year before they have to offer health insurance to workers. There’s a strong suspicion among Americans that the deadline may be pushed back again. In a January poll by Bankrate, about 62 percent of more than 1,000 respondents believed the March 31 deadline would be extended. Only 29 percent said they believed it would stand. Still, there’s much confusion about what the deadline actually means. Roughly 55 percent of Americans don’t know that March 31 is the cutoff date to purchase health insurance under the individual mandate provision of the law, according to the poll. Missing the deadlineDon’t be caught off guard about the consequences of missing the deadline. After March 31, consumers looking to purchase plans through the marketplace won’t be able to do so until open enrollment begins again in October. If you miss the deadline, you can purchase insurance outside of the marketplace at any time – but be aware that you won’t receive any premium subsidies(think “discounts”), and you will likely be subject to a penalty for the time you were uninsured. If you are without coverage come March 31, you may face a penalty on your 2014 tax return. The fine will be $95 per adult and $47.50 per child or 1 percent of your household income, whichever is greater. In 2015, that will increase to $325 per adult or 2 percent of income.*