Have you signed up for an Obamacare health insurance plan yet? If not, you should know that the deadline to do so is March 31, 2014. Brief extensions of that deadline may be available for certain people who have already begun the enrollment process, but these won’t be available to everyone and March 31st is still the effective end of open enrollment. So don’t delay!
Self-employed persons and small business owners should take the enrollment deadline and the requirement to have health insurance especially seriously. Going without health insurance leaves yourself, your family, and your business open to dire financial consequences if you should become seriously ill or require hospitalization. And then, of course, there are the tax penalties for not having health insurance in 2014.
Under the Affordable Care Act most Americans are required to have some form of qualifying coverage or else face a potential tax penalty. The tax penalty is $95 per adult and $47.50 per child in your household, or 1% of your annual modified adjusted income, whichever is greater. The penalty is triggered when you are uninsured for three months or more in a single year (with some exceptions).
Qualifying forms of coverage that will protect you from the tax penalty include self-purchased individual or family health insurance plans, employer-sponsored group health insurance plans, Medicare or Medicaid, and other forms of government-sponsored coverage.
Open enrollment periods and qualifying events
The Affordable Care Act established a first-ever nationwide open enrollment period for people who purchase coverage on their own. It began on October 1, 2013 and is scheduled to continue through March 31, 2014.
As of April 1, 2014, individuals and families who have not enrolled in health insurance (or, in some cases, who have not at least begun the enrollment process) may no longer be able to purchase coverage until the following open enrollment period, unless they experience a special qualifying life event. Qualifying events may include things like marriage, the birth of a child, certain changes in your household income, moving permanently from one state or city to another, or losing your coverage through divorce or the loss of a job, among other things.
The next nationwide open enrollment period isn’t scheduled to begin until November 15, 2014 and coverage under new plans will not begin until January 1, 2015 at the earliest.
Where can I turn for coverage today?
If you need to purchase health insurance for yourself or your family, work with a licensed agent like eHealth or work through your state’s government-run health insurance exchange. Find out if you’ll qualify for government subsidies to help you afford your monthly premiums.
In order to qualify for subsidies, your household income can be no more than 400% of the federal poverty level (about $46,000 for a single person or $94,000 for a family of four). The subsidies you receive will make sure that you don’t pay more than a specific percentage of your annual wages towards premiums (the percentage varies based on your total income).
If you opt to take a government subsidy, remember that your eligibility is based on your projected income for 2014 and not on your actual income for past years. At the end of 2014, if your income was greater than projected, you may have to repay all or part of your subsidy.
To learn more about your subsidy eligibility, get quotes and compare plans, contact a licensed health insurance agent or the government health insurance exchange in your state.
What if miss the open enrollment deadline?
If you wake up on April 1, 2014 and still haven’t enrolled in health insurance, there may be a couple options. For example, if you’re a small business owner you may still qualify to purchase a group health insurance plan for yourself and your employees. Talk with a licensed agent to learn more. In some states you may need to have at least one full-time employee in addition to yourself before you can qualify.
Alternately, you may also be able to purchase an individual or family major medical health insurance plan if you experience one of the qualifying events described above.
When you experience a qualifying event, you’ll trigger what’s known as a “special election period.” This is a period of time (usually sixty days) when you’ll be able to apply for subsidies and enroll in a health insurance plan outside of an open enrollment period.
If you’re uninsured and haven’t experienced a qualifying life event, you’re not going to able to purchase a major medical health insurance plan again until November 15. However, there are some other forms of coverage that you may want to consider.
These alternate forms of coverage include things like short-term health insurance, which provides you with a certain level of protection against the cost of serious illness or hospitalization, typically for a period of up to six months. However, short-term plans typically do not provide coverage for pre-existing medical conditions or preventive care.
You may also want to consider accident insurance or critical illness insurance. These are not health insurance plans but they provide you with a pay-out in the case of a serious injury or medical diagnosis.
Neither of these products – nor short-term health insurance – will meet your coverage requirements under the Affordable Care Act. You may still be subject to a tax penalty when you file your 2014 federal tax return.
To learn more about the health reform law and your coverage options, visit eHealth’s Affordable Care Act Resource Center. To get an idea of what real people are paying for individual or family health insurance today, visit eHealth’s Health Insurance Price Index, which is updated on a daily basis.