Last call for health care enrollment without penalty
On the home page of the White House blog, a clock ticks away the final days, hours, minutes and seconds until March 31 when the initial enrollment period to purchase health care under the Affordable Care Act expires.
Below the clock, the president reminds Americans “if you still need to sign up for health insurance, you should go to HealthCare.gov right now and sign up for coverage. You’ve got just seven days left until the March 31st deadline. It’s last call for 2014 if you want to be covered this year.”
That window has now shrunk to four regular working days, and the president’s words are even more compelling.
As the first open enrollment period for purchasing health insurance through federal and state versions of the Affordable Care Act comes to a close on March 31, the number of Americans who took advantage of the opportunity to sign up for health insurance assures the viability of the program, including its successful state options.
In a Politico.com article, Phil Schiliro, health care adviser to the president, wrote “More than 5 million Americans have signed up for coverage through federal and state marketplaces; millions have been determined eligible for Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program; and 3 million young adults gained insurance through their parents’ coverage.”
It is not without irony that Colorado has emerged as a leader in implementation of the Affordable Care Act — aka Obamacare — by choosing the option of creating a state-based health insurance program.
The original proposal that led to Colorado exercising its option to opt out of the federal health care system was a Republican attempt to use the state party’s legislative clout to weaken, if not destroy, the Affordable Care Act in Colorado.
After such an inauspicious beginning, Colorado surprisingly emerged as fourth in the nation for the percent of uninsured population that would be covered by expanding insurance exchanges under the terms of the federal Affordable Healthcare Act.
Introduced by Rep. Amy Stephens, R-Monument, the state option was initially proposed as a scheme to bring the Affordable Care Act under state, rather than federal control.
As Stephens told her Republican colleagues, “You either get choice A or B. With choice A, you get a state exchange. With choice B, you get a federal exchange.”
Despite exposure to unprecedented negative advertising and a deliberate misinformation campaign against the Affordable Care Act, Coloradans have signed up for coverage under Colorado’s exchange in record numbers.
Once the deadline passes next Monday, March 31, those not registered for the state insurance coverage will not be allowed to enroll until the next window opens from Nov. 1, 2014 to March 31, 2015.
In addition to losing access to health care for the remainder of 2014, Coloradans who fail to sign up for health insurance through the federal or state exchanges are also subject to a potentially substantial fine for missing the enrollment deadline.
An individual fine for failing to acquire insurance would be the higher of $95 or 1 percent of earnings. Some critics have claimed this small amount is insufficient to compel compliance.
However, add an additional $95 for a spouse, and $47.50 for each child, and the fine could rise to as much as $295, where it is capped.
These penalties are expected to rise substantially in tax years 2015 and 2016.
Fortunately, for Coloradans unable to afford this amount, government subsidies determined on the basis of household income and family size are available.
After the deadline passes, Coloradans will be unable to purchase insurance until the next open enrollment period from Nov. 1 this year until March 31, 2015. Insurance purchased during this period will not become effective until 2015.
Estimates are that enrollment nationally, once expected to peak at about 4 million enrollees, may now see as many as 6.5 or even 7 million Americans enrolled through the ACA, or its state counterparts.
With so little time remaining, and the cost of non-compliance so steep, Coloradans who have not yet signed up for a plan under The Affordable Care Act should take advantage of this final opportunity to secure health care without penalty.
After Monday, March 31, it will be too late.