Enrollment in Obamacare is over for 2014, except that it’s not.
Thanks to extensions beyond March 31, many Americans who want to sign up for health plans can still go online, call for help, or fill out a paper application on Obamacare exchanges.
But the extensions aren’t available to everyone.
For the federal HealthCare.gov website that serves as the portal for most states, you need to have at least begun the process by the end of March.
How do you move toward enrollment during this grace period?
We’ll walk through some key steps.
If you’ve opened an account on HealthCare.gov:
Log on and finish your application. It’s not clear if there will be a cutoff date this month for finishing, so best to try to complete the process within a few days if you can. A box will pop up, allowing you to attest that you have been trying to enroll and want to finish. Federal officials say they will take what time is necessary to work through cases pending online and will accept paper applications that arrive in the mail by April 7.
If you live in a state that operated its own website.
Rules vary. The deadline for enrollment was pretty firm in some states, while others like California have set up grace periods that more or less mirror the federal one.
In Oregon, enrollment is open until April 30, with no questions about whether you tried to get started by March 31.The Cover Oregon website for enrollment had particularly severe challenges, and the state said the lengthy extension aims to compensate for those problems.
What if you don’t qualify for an extension?
You may still be able to get covered for 2014.
The federal HealthCare.gov site notes that applying for Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) can be done all year long.
Certain “life events” like moving, having a baby, or losing a job with health benefits may qualify you for a “special enrollment period” outside the normal window.
Or you can shop with an insurance company outside the Obamacare marketplace. Plans bought outside the marketplaces don't come with government subsidies that hold down the cost for people with low or mid-level incomes. But they do include the law's consumer protections. For example, insurers can't turn down customers because of preexisting medical conditions.
If you end up staying uninsured, what happens?
The premise of the Affordable Care Act is that people should get covered or they’ll owe a tax penalty based on the number of months without coverage.
But are you required to get insurance? In practice, many people don’t have to, such as if they qualify for exemptions due to financial hardship or other reasons.
The fine for going uninsured all year is the greater of two formulas: about 1 percent of household income above the tax-filing threshold of $10,150 or $95 per adult and $47.50 per child under 18, up to $285 per family. It's due to the IRS in April 2015.
Open enrollment for 2015 is coming later this year. It's scheduled to begin Nov. 15 and run just three months. The uninsured penalty next year rises to 2 percent of income or $325 per adult and $162.50 per child.
Material from the Associated Press was used in this story.
Other articles in this series: