Healthcare deadline fast approaching
If you don’t have healthcare coverage, March 31 is the last day you can sign up for health insurance to avoid a federal tax penalty under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
As recently as last month, three-fourths of the uninsured didn’t know there was a deadline, according to polling conducted for the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Another potential hurdle is cost. If you’re worried about affording coverage, the ACA enrollment campaign is emphasizing that subsidies are available on a sliding scale to help low-income and middle-class households pay for their insurance. But you have to sign up through the state’s official insurance exchange, Covered California (CoveredCA) to get this financial help.
After March 31, many people won’t be able to get subsidized coverage this year, even if they become seriously ill.
The next open enrollment period is set to begin Nov. 15, for coverage that begins in 2015.
There are exceptions
People remain eligible for Medicare whenever they turn 65. People who meet the requirements for the MediCal program can sign up anytime, with no deadline.
Also, if you’re insured now but lose your coverage during the year, by getting laid off from your job, for example, you can use CoveredCA to find a new policy then. People can sign up outside the open enrollment period in special situations such as having a baby or moving to another state.
Others are exempt from the insurance mandate: American Indians, those with religious objections, prisoners, undocumented immigrants and people considered too poor to buy coverage even with financial assistance (coverage would cost more than 8.5 percent of your household income).
Avoid the tax penalty
Otherwise, people who don’t obtain coverage by March 31, 2014 are liable for a fine. That amounts to $95 per uninsured person or 1 percent of income, whichever is higher. The penalty goes up substantially in subsequent years.
From now on, the Internal Revenue Service will be asking taxpayers filing their tax forms for proof of insurance coverage. Insurance companies are supposed to provide that documentation to their customers. If you owe a penalty for being uninsured, the IRS can withhold it from your refund. The agency can’t put people in jail or garnish wages to get the money, but it can withhold the penalty from a future year’s tax refund.
One last thing: Signing up isn’t all you have to do. You have to open your checkbook too. If you fail to pay your health insurance premiums, you will end up uninsured and liable for the tax penalty.