First ‘Obamacare’ open enrollment period ends soon: Those not covered face penalty next tax season
The uninsured in the individual and small group health care market have 18 days left to sign up for insurance through the Marketplace or exchanges created by the Affordable Care Act, the reform law dubbed Obamacare.
After the March 31 deadline, only those going through one of several life changes — which include having a child, marriage or loss of coverage due to employment changes — will be able to use the marketplace to enroll for 2014 coverage. The 2015 open enrollment period begins Nov. 15, said Luther Stueland, Director of Health Policy Impact at Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota.
“This is the first year of this in North Dakota,” Stueland said. “People have until March 31 to do two things, to enroll in coverage and to avoid the individual mandate penalty. If people don’t have coverage — haven’t enrolled in coverage by March 31 — they could end up having to pay a penalty when they file their 2014 taxes.”
Since it’s disastrous launch last autumn, there have been improvements to healthcare.gov, including allowing potential shoppers to get quotes before filling out the lengthy application.
“Healthcare.gov has been functioning better than it was. I’d say very well in comparison to how it was functioning back in October or November,” Stueland said. “The shop and compare was something they added late. … Once they added that, I think that helped to reduce the volume of people who are actually going into fill out the actual application.”
For those that don’t have an Internet connection or just need help, there are three health care navigators at DLN Consulting in Dickinson, said Deb Nelson, one of the navigators. Their job is to assist people with individual sign-up.
“We’ve had a number of people do their own application online, but then run into a question that they may have that they aren’t able to answer,” Nelson said. “They can just give us a call and we can walk them through it on the phone.”
People have until March 31 to sign up for coverage that begins May 1, Nelson said. Those who sign up by Saturday would be covered by April 1.
“The website is open completely 24 hours a day, seven days a week and so, if they want to sit at their computer in the middle of the night and put in an application they can do so,” Nelson said.
While the penalty was to be assessed on a prorated basis for anyone without coverage for more than three months of the year, anyone enrolling before March 31 will not be assessed the penalty, even though they may be uninsured for four months, according to healthcare.gov.
The penalty is $95 for those making between $10,150 and $19,650. People making less than $10,150 will not be assessed the penalty. Those making more than $19,650 will be charged 1 percent of their income.
The penalties are assessed starting next tax season.
“It is our understanding that the penalty would reduce an individual’s calculated tax refund, or would calculate an additional amount due on the individual’s tax return for those who do not get a refund check back,” Harmony Kolling, CPA with Brady Martz & Associates, P.C. of Dickinson wrote in an email Wednesday.
The penalties will increase over the next three years.
In 2015, it’s 2 percent of income or $325 per person. People will have to pay 2.5 percent or $695 per person in 2016 and later years, according to healthcare.gov. After that, it’s adjusted for inflation.
Insurance can be purchased directly from a carrier or through a broker to avoid the penalty. In order to qualify for the tax credits, it must be purchased through the marketplace, Stueland said.
“The products we’re offering through all three channels are the same types of products,” Stueland said. “The tax credits are significant. It can be hundreds of thousands of dollars on the line for filling out that application.”
Appointments with the health care navigators can be made evenings or weekends in addition to regular business hours, Nelson said.
Lora Petrie, another navigator with DLN, will be at the Dickinson Public Library today and Tuesday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. to answer questions about the marketplace and set up appointments, Nelson said.
“We’ll have our laptop right there and they can just stop in and we will be happy to help them through it,” Nelson said.
Call the health care navigators at 1-800-233-1737 or 701-483-2801.