Quantcast
Get breaking news alerts via email

Click here to manage your alerts
FILE - This Nov. 27, 2013, file photo shows part of the HealthCare.gov website page featuring information about the SHOP Marketplace is photographed in Washington. The deadline for those without insurance to sign up is March 31 in order to avoid a tax penalty. (AP Photo/Jon Elswick, File)
Last call: Health overhaul’s deadline is coming

March 31 » Sign up for insurance this month or face penalty.

By TOM MURPHY

The Associated Press

First Published Mar 11 2014 08:22 am • Last Updated Mar 12 2014 04:46 pm

Uninsured Americans face an important deadline at the end of this month, and many don’t realize it.

March 31 is the last day to sign up for health insurance coverage and avoid a penalty for failing to obtain insurance for 2014 under the federal health care overhaul.

At a glance

Go figure: Health plan needs 42 sign-ups a minute

If the Obama administration’s health care plan is going to pass what amounts to its first physical, people have to sign up this month at a pretty speedy rate: 42 times a minute.

That’s somewhere between the steady rate you breathe and how fast your heart beats.

Someone has to sign up every 1.4 seconds in March for the Obama administration to reach its 6 million sign-up goal. Enrollment season ends March 31 and as of March 1, sign-ups were at 4.2 million.

Join the Discussion
Post a Comment

The Obama administration says about 4 million people have signed up so far through the overhaul’s insurance exchanges, which allow customers to buy coverage with help from income-based tax credits or subsidies. The percentage of those customers who were previously uninsured is unclear.

Only 24 percent of the uninsured polled last month by the Kaiser Family Foundation knew that March 31 is the deadline. Some 5 percent thought the deadline had already passed, and another 2 percent thought there was no deadline, according to the nonprofit foundation, which studies health care issues.

Make no mistake, there is a deadline. Here are answers to five frequently asked questions as the deadline approaches.

1. Wasn’t there a December deadline to sign up? » Yes. If you wanted coverage that started Jan. 1. Insurance coverage generally starts the first day of the month, and insurers need a couple of weeks to process applications. So those who want coverage that starts April 1 should submit an application no later than March 15.

If you sign up between March 15 and March 31, your coverage probably won’t start until May.

2. What happens if I blow this March 31 deadline? » There are a couple ways you could be hurt financially.

The first, and most obvious, is by paying a tax penalty based on the size of your annual household income. That can amount to a penalty of either $95 per adult and $47.50 per child under 18, which tops out at $285 per family, or a penalty totaling 1 percent of taxable annual income, whichever is greater.

That 1 percent could translate into a penalty totaling several hundred dollars depending on how much you make above the minimum gross income level required for filing a tax return. For instance, an individual who earns $50,000 could face a $400 penalty based on the 2013 minimum gross income level of $10,000 for an individual.


story continues below
story continues below

There are several exceptions to this coverage requirement and the fine that comes with it, noted Jennifer Tolbert, a health care overhaul expert with Kaiser. One of the biggest is for people who can’t find coverage that costs less than 8 percent of their taxable annual income.

The mandate to obtain health insurance also provides a three-month grace period, so anyone uninsured for less than three months in 2014 won’t have to make this payment. Those who are uninsured for part of the year pay a penalty based on how many months they are uninsured.

The other financial risk comes from incurring a big medical expense without coverage. A doctor’s visit can cost more than $100, and the price for a major surgery, like a joint replacement can stretch into six figures.

3. When will I have another chance to sign up? » You may have to wait until next fall to sign up for coverage that starts in 2015. That’s unless you have a major change in your insurance needs triggered by events such as a move to another state, marriage, divorce, the birth of a child or the loss of a job.

The next open enrollment period is scheduled to run from Nov. 15, 2014 to Jan. 15, 2015.

4. What are the typical options I might have for coverage? » Individual insurance plans are sold based on four coverage levels — bronze, silver, gold and platinum — that correspond to the extent of the insurance provided. Basically, bronze-level plans will come with a lower up-front cost or premium, but the patient will have to pay more out of pocket before the coverage starts.

Income-based tax credits are available to help cover the premium for individuals or families making up to four times the federal poverty level. That equates to an income of $95,400 for a family of four in all states except Alaska and Hawaii.

Shoppers can use those when buying coverage through government-run health insurance marketplaces set up for the overhaul.

A word of caution about these subsidies: They are based on the applicant’s estimate of his or her modified, adjusted gross income. Those who estimate too low, and wind up with a bigger subsidy than they deserve, may have to pay some of it back.

5. How can I sign up? » The federal government’s website, HeathCare.gov, provides links to apply for coverage. It also offers tips and information about coverage options.

That website endured a rocky debut last fall, when frequent crashes and other technical problems left many customers frustrated. But government officials say those problems have been largely cleaned up.

Applicants who make too much to qualify for significant subsidy help should look beyond these government-run exchanges for more options. An insurer may sell gold- or silver-level plans on a state’s exchange and then offer a platinum-level plan off the exchange.



Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Top Reader Comments Read All Comments Post a Comment
Click here to read all comments   Click here to post a comment


About Reader Comments


Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
Staying Connected
Videos
Jobs
Contests and Promotions
  • Search Obituaries
  • Place an Obituary

  • Search Cars
  • Search Homes
  • Search Jobs
  • Search Marketplace
  • Search Legal Notices

  • Other Services
  • Advertise With Us
  • Subscribe to the Newspaper
  • Access your e-Edition
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Contact a newsroom staff member
  • Access the Trib Archives
  • Privacy Policy
  • Missing your paper? Need to place your paper on vacation hold? For this and any other subscription related needs, click here or call 801.204.6100.