The rollout of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare as it is more commonly known, was anything but smooth. However, the Administration was able to claim that it met its goal of achieving seven million signups for Obamacare insurance by the end of March 2014.
This is when the initial six-month Open Enrollment period for buying health insurance on the HealthCare.gov online marketplace ended. If you have not yet purchased what the law defines as “essential minimum healthcare coverage,” you may now be subject to a penalty fee, which is referred to as the “individual shared responsibility payment.”
There are a number of different scenarios that could exempt you from having to pay the fee. But if you don’t meet one of them, you’ll have to pay one percent of your annual income or $95, whichever is higher, when you file your 2014 income tax return.
Your Primary Options
The next Open Enrollment period when you can buy health insurance on the HealthCare.gov Marketplace won’t begin until November 15 of this year. So what can you do between now and then if you still don’t have health insurance?
The first thing to do is find out if you qualify for a special enrollment period for the federal insurance Marketplace. You must meet one of two criteria to qualify:
- You experienced a certain kind of change in your life during the past year. These “qualifying life events” include losing other health insurance coverage, moving to another state, experiencing certain changes in your income, and experiencing changes in your family size (like getting married or divorced or having a child), among others.
- You experienced a complex situation related to applying for health insurance via the Marketplace. These situations include receiving misinformation from a non-Marketplace enrollment assister (like an insurance agent or broker) and experiencing technical errors while trying to enroll on HealthCare.gov, among others.
The Special Enrollment period lasts for 60 days after the date of your qualifying life event. If you think you meet one of these criteria, contact the Marketplace Call Center at (800) 318-2596 and a representative will help you apply for the special enrollment period and purchase insurance.
Also, note that you can purchase dental and vision coverage at any time. These types of insurance are not subject to the Open Enrollment period or a special enrollment period.
Some Other Options
Another option is to apply for Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (or CHIP). You can apply for these programs at any time during the year and enroll right away if you qualify.
Meanwhile, if you’re a member of a federally recognized tribe or an Alaskan native, you can purchase Marketplace health insurance at any time of the year. And if you’re a small business owner, you can apply for coverage for yourself and your employees via the SHOP (Small Business Health Options Program) marketplace any time during the year.
Finally, keep in mind that there is no open enrollment period for health insurance sold outside of the HealthCare.gov Marketplace — you can buy a private health insurance policy at any time. However, you will not be able to receive health insurance subsidies that you might have been eligible for had you purchased coverage through the Marketplace.
So if the Open Enrollment deadline passed before you had a chance to buy health insurance, don’t panic. There are a number of different options whereby you can still get health insurance. And be sure to write down November 15, 2014, the start of the next Open Enrollment period. Stay healthy, my friends!