Saturday, October 12, 2013

Enrollment deadline really Feb. 15 for Affordable Care Act

When enrollment in the Affordable Care Act's new online insurance exchanges opened Oct. 1, those in the know assured everyone there was plenty of time.

Although you have to enroll by Dec. 15 to get insurance starting Jan. 1, the law says the uninsured have until March 31 to be covered and avoid paying a fine.

But it turns out that really isn't true.

The Christian Science Monitor broke the news last week that, because of technicalities in the insurance world, the real deadline if Feb. 15.

Although open enrollment runs through the end of March, individuals are  required to be insured all year in 2014, and the IRS will forgive only brief coverage gaps of less than three consecutive months. (Some people will qualify for exemptions to this rule, such as if they have very low incomes.)

So people need to be covered by insurance in March. And to do that, they'll need to enroll by Feb. 15.

According to the Monitor: "Most companies start their policies on the first of the month, and so to be covered on March 31, one has to buy insurance that starts on March 1. To get insurance that starts on March 1, one has to sign up by around Feb. 15."

I called the Kaiser Family Foundation to find out more. Senior fellow Karen Pollitz said it's worth noting that people who enroll later than Feb. 15 might face only a partial penalty because the penalty is assessed for coverage months.  

Take someone whose income would mean they'd draw a $95 fine for not having insurance next year. If they enroll on Feb 16, coverage will take effect April 1. That means that person will have had a three-month coverage gap. Pollitz said the penalty would be 3/12 x $95, or $23.75.

By the way, the federal government's enrollment website,, still isn't working properly. But a new feature popped up last week that allows consumers to window shop for plans without having to create an account. Without an account, you can't see if you're eligible for a subsidy or how much, but you can get an idea of the number of plans and their before-subsidy costs.

Kaiser's state-specific subsidy calculator  can provide estimates..

Consumer Reports also has launched an interactive tool for consumers.

And here's another from WebMD.