During the past couple of months, deadlines for the Affordable Care Act have changed frequently due to the horrible launch of the federal exchange website.
The administration has said for a while that today is the last date for people to sign up for coverage that begins January 1. According to the Washington Post, though, that isn’t even true. They’ve secretly pushed back that date a day to tomorrow.
These changes can be very confusing so here’s what it all means:
What was today actually supposed to be the deadline for?
Normally, to be covered by January 1, you have to purchase coverage by December 15. This gives insurers time to file paperwork and configure their computers for the new enrollees. This was never a hard deadline, but a functional one. Insurers wouldn’t be able to process applications after December 15 in time for coverage to begin January 1.
But after the website was nearly unusable until the end of November, the administration realised that 15 days was not a long enough time for people to purchase coverage. In response, they persuaded insurers to extend that functional deadline until December 23. They also convinced them to accept payments for coverage starting in January all the way up until January 10.
So, the originally deadline to sign up for coverage was today. What did the administration secretly change?
According to the Post, the Obama administration made a change to the computer system that gives people an extra day to enroll in a plan. That means you have until 11:59 p.m. tomorrow night to sign up for coverage that starts January 1. According to the Post, the White House wanted to an extra day of time in case demand overwhelms the site today as Americans sign up at the last minute.
OK, so tomorrow is my absolute last day to purchase health insurance that begins January 1?
Actually, that isn’t even totally true. In a few circumstance, you may even be able to sign up for a plan after tomorrow and still have coverage starting in January. The Department of Health and Humans Services (HHS) has been “encouraging” insurers to allow people to sign up for a plan after today and even into January with coverage that starts Jan. 1, 2014. Some insurers are listening to HHS and will allow enrollees to have coverage retroactive to January 1.
But many insurers are not doing so. For those that aren’t, tomorrow is the final day for people to sign up for coverage that begins in January. You don’t have to pay your first premium yet – you still have until January 10 for that – but you must at least enroll in the plan.
What about the individual mandate and the penalty? If I don’t have coverage in January, will I face a fine?
No. The penalty for not having coverage doesn’t kick in unless you haven’t signed up for insurance after March 31. That means you can forego insurance for another couple of months without any consequences.
How does this all fit in with the individual mandate delay last week? Does that cover me?
Last week, HHS announced that they would give a hardship waiver to anyone whose insurance was cancelled due to the law. The waiver delays the individual mandate one year for these people and allows them to purchase the cheaper catastrophic plans that were originally only available to people under the age of 30.
If your plan was not cancelled, then this policy change does not affect you at all. If it was cancelled, then you can go all of 2014 without insurance and won’t have to pay the penalty. However, none of this affects tomorrow’s deadline.
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