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MONDAY, Jan. 13, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- There's still time to enroll in a health insurance plan through one of the Affordable Care Act's new online marketplaces. And if you sign up by Wednesday, you'll have coverage starting next month.
Open enrollment for 2014 runs through March 31. For people who enroll by Jan. 15, coverage takes effect on Feb. 1. For those who sign up from Jan. 16-30, coverage starts March 1.
The health insurance marketplaces, or exchanges, were created under the Affordable Care Act to help uninsured Americans shop for a health plan. The federal exchange, HealthCare.gov, is the gateway for people to sign up in 34 states. Sixteen states and the District of Columbia are running their own exchanges.
Sign-ups began Oct. 1, 2013. But due to technical problems with the HealthCare.gov website and some of the state marketplaces, would-be users may have shied away.
Many of those individuals weren't aware of the exchanges or the financial assistance available to them under the health-reform law, a recent Commonwealth Fund survey found.
The Affordable Care Act, or "Obamacare" as some people know it, became the law of the land in 2010. But the rollout of new, private health coverage under the law only took effect this year.
"There's time left, and that is why this enrollment period was six months," said Sara Collins, vice president for health care coverage and access at the Commonwealth Fund, which is tracking Americans' experiences with the marketplaces.
Policymakers knew it would take time for consumers to become aware of their health plan options through the exchanges, Collins said.
It remains to be seen how many people will enroll in private health-plan coverage this year or whether cost concerns will keep them away.
The Urban Institute's latest Health Reform Monitoring Survey examined the experiences of uninsured adults in the "non-group" health insurance market last year, before the exchanges opened for business. Among uninsured adults eligible for enrollment in the new marketplaces, 63 percent cited affordability as the main reason for not buying health insurance in 2013.
"Cost has historically been a barrier. What's different now is that there's really some relief coming with the Affordable Care Act," said Katherine Hempstead, team director and senior program officer at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which is providing some funding for the survey. Specifically, people may be eligible for tax credits or cost-sharing assistance, depending on their income.
She said the survey results underscore the need for enrollment and outreach programs to spread the word about the financial help available through the marketplaces.
Consumers should keep a few other key Affordable Care Act facts and deadlines in mind:
- Under the law, most Americans must have health insurance coverage. If you don't have insurance in 2014, you may have to pay a penalty. The maximum penalty for 2014 is $95 per adult and half of that for children (up to $285 for a family of three or more), or up to 1 percent of household income.
- If you're uninsured for part of the year, you'll pay a reduced penalty.
- In certain cases, you may enroll after the March 31 open enrollment deadline. Moving to a new state, for example, would create a special enrollment period. A birth or adoption in the family, a marriage or divorce or a job loss can also make you eligible to sign up for coverage after the March 31 enrollment deadline.
- Open enrollment for coverage in 2015 begins Nov. 15.
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SOURCES: Sara Collins, vice president for health care coverage and access, The Commonwealth Fund, New York City; Jan. 9, 2014, news release and report, The Commonwealth Fund; Katherine Hempstead, team director and senior program officer, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Princeton, N.J.; HealthCare.gov