The deadline has passed to buy a health plan on HealthCare.gov for coverage that starts Jan. 1, 2015.
But open enrollment goes through Feb. 15, 2015, and this week on Florida Matters on WUSF 89.7 FM, we talk about what consumers should do if they need to buy a health plan. The show airs on Tuesday, Dec. 16 at 6:30 p.m. and Sunday, Dec. 21 at 7:30 a.m.
Our panelists are Mary Shedden, editor of WUSF's health reporting project Health News Florida, and Jodi Ray, the project director for Florida Covering Kids & Families, which has navigators in every Florida county assisting people with enrollment.
JODI RAY: Your options are still to go ahead and apply. Feb. 15 is the deadline for open enrollment. Go ahead and apply, find out what tax credits you qualify for … you may qualify for other financial assistance in addition to the tax credits, also keeping in mind that not applying can also result in a financial penalty. And what we’re saying is, why pay that financial penalty and get nothing, or you can sign up for health insurance and get healthcare. Get something for your money.
CRAIG KOPP: And those financial penalties are going up each year as we progress into the program (in 2015, it’s 2 percent of your yearly household income or $325 per person for the year, whichever is greater).
And it is the second year. We have a website now that actually works – we’re over that hump. What are the biggest challenges in terms of a second year of enrollment that you’ve seen as you’ve sat and watched your navigators help people through the process?
RAY: We’re doing two jobs now. We’re helping people renew the coverage they got last year, and we’re helping those that didn’t participate last year get coverage for the first time. We’re doing all of this in half the time. With that, one of the biggest challenges we’re seeing is making sure individuals know how to go ahead and access their existing accounts.
KOPP: What if your insurance is charging a higher premium, and now you look at that and say, that doesn’t fit in my budget, but we have passed that Dec. 15 deadline now. Can you still make changes?
RAY: Yeah, so the good thing is open enrollment goes through Feb. 15, so folks will have an opportunity through the whole open enrollment period to update their information for 2015 and make decisions about the plans. Those changes will not take effect Jan. 1, but they can certainly get them in by Jan. 15 to take effect Feb. 1.
KOPP: How many people in the state of Florida took advantage of Obamacare and got signed up last year, Mary?
MARY SHEDDEN: Estimates are about 1 million, and actually Florida is one of the largest states to sign up folks on the federal exchange, and folks in programs like Jodi’s really were a big part of that.
This coming year, the federal government set a big target of about 9.1 million individuals signing up for insurance. That’s a huge number, but still somewhere in the 15-20 percent range of Americans still don’t have health insurance.
KOPP: Now the big draw here is you can possibly qualify for tax credits, which lower the expense of health insurance – that’s the whole key to getting this program going. How do you find out whether you qualify?
SHEDDEN: It’s really based on how much you make, and the whole point of HealthCare.gov, it was setup to provide a place where folks who didn’t have access to health care through a job, or couldn’t afford a plan, can go and shop and look for a plan and then get assistance based on their annual income.