Monday, March 31, 2014

Hey procrastinators, you still have a few more hours to sign up for health insurance

Posted By on Mon, Mar 31, 2014 at 4:25 PM

Tonight is the deadline to purchase health insurance on Washington's online marketplace under the Affordable Care Act. (For a quick primer on the health care law, read this.) Have last minute questions? We've got answers. 

When exactly does the enrollment period end?

You must finish your application and make your first payment online by 11:59 pm tonight. Your coverage will start on May 1. Otherwise — unless you have a "qualifying event" or experience technical issues beyond your control (see below) — you'll have to wait until the next enrollment period, Nov. 15, 2014 to Feb. 15, 2015, for health coverage in 2015. 

I've been trying to finish my online application all day, but argh@#$%& so many errors! 

If technical problems on Washington Healthplanfinder are keeping you from completing the enrollment process, you still may be able to buy health insurance later and avoid a penalty for being uninsured. But this only works if you've made a "good faith effort to get health insurance," says Michael Marchand, communications director at the Washington Health Benefit Exchange. 

If this happens to you, call 1-855-923-4633 or email [email protected] with as much information about your application as you can provide and the errors you encountered.   

"We'll be looking at those cases and evaluating them individually and making the determination whether they can get additional time to complete it," Marchand says. "We have the ability to trace every application in our system, so we know when people have started. We know the last time the application was worked on in the system. We also know the last time a person has called our toll-free line.” 

That said, customers starting the enrollment process at 11:58 pm tonight probably won't get a deadline extension and neither will those who incorrectly or incompletely fill out their applications.

I recently experienced a major life change. Do I get an enrollment extension? 

Having a baby, adopting a child, getting married or divorced, losing a job or getting a new one — these are what the health exchange calls "qualifying events."  And yes, if a major life change happens to you, you would be eligible for a 60-day "special enrollment period" after tonight's deadline. You'll still get health coverage this year and you won't have to pay a penalty. On the Washington Healthplanfinder website, there's a "special condition" questionnaire in which you can report your qualifying event. You'll later receive an email directing you to submit appropriate paperwork — a copy of your marriage license, child's birth certificate, layoff notice, etcetera —  to the exchange.  

So what's the "penalty"? 

The penalty for being uninsured is $95 per adult and and $47.50 per child, or 1 percent of your household's annual income — whichever is higher. You'll pay this fee on next year's federal tax return. (Some people, such as Native Americans, are exempt.)

Still, I don't think I can afford insurance. 

If your annual income is 138 percent of the federal poverty line or below, you'll qualify for Medicaid in Washington, which you can sign up for anytime.  If not, there's a good chance you're eligible for tax credits to offset the cost of your premiums.  In Washington, 81 percent of enrollees have qualified for financial assistance. This handy chart from shows whether or not you can save money on your health insurance: 

Can anyone help me sign up for health insurance?

Get in touch with an in-person assister at these local nonprofits and hospitals to guide you through the process or call the exchange's toll-free customer support line at 1-855-923-4633. If you call the customer support center, chances are you'll experience long wait times. But as long as your call is in queue by 8 pm, Marchand says a representative will speak with you. 

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Deanna Pan

Deanna Pan is a staff writer at the Inlander, where she covers social justice, state politics and health care. In her cover stories, she's written about mass shooting survivors, NGRI patients and honey bees...