What Consumers Should Know about the Affordable Care Act

Today is the last day to enroll for affordable health care through the market place. So far, the White House estimates more than 6 million Americans have signed up for coverage. Here’s what you need to know.

You might have more time to enroll. The Obama administration announced last week that consumers who started their application on HealthCare.gov but don’t complete it in time will be able to ask for an extension until the middle of April. The updated HealthCare.gov site will prompt you to check a box indicating that you attempted to enroll before the deadline. If you have a qualifying life event such as marriage, divorce, birth or adoption of a child, or loss of a job, you can apply for affordable health care at any time. The next open enrollment period will be November 2014 for coverage beginning January 1, 2015.

Signing up is simple. Go to healthcare.gov or call 800-318-2596. You can also sign up in person (see localhelp.healthcare.gov). In addition, you can purchase policies directly from insurers. The only drawback is that you won’t be eligible for premium tax credits that can help reduce your costs.

You cannot be denied coverage if you have a pre-existing condition. The only exception to the rule is for grandfathered individual health insurance plans (those you purchased yourself, not through an employer).

Young adults can stay on their parents’ plan longer. For plans that cover children, they can be added to or remain on a parent’s policy until they reach 26 years of age. This is true even if the child is married, in school, or not living with their parents.

You might be eligible for premium tax credits. If your income is between 100% to 400% of the federal poverty level, you may be eligible. If you are below about 133%, you may be eligible for an Expanded Medicaid program.

If you don’t get covered, you’ll face a tax penalty. The penalty will gradually rise over a three-year period. In 2014, the cost will be $285 per family or 1% of household income (whichever is greater). Individual adults will pay $95. The following year, in 2015, the fee will be $975 per family or 2% of household income (whichever is greater). Individual adults will pay $325. By 2016, the cost will rise to $2,085 or 2.5% of household income (whichever is greater). Individual adults will pay $695. The penalty must be paid to the IRS along with your taxes.
However, in some cases you may be exempt from this fee. For example, those who are uninsured for less than three months out of the year, members of a federally recognized tribe, or the lowest-priced coverage available to you would cost more than 8% of your household income.