The second open enrollment period for Americans to sign up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act begins Saturday, when people across the country will start visiting HealthCare.gov in hopes of finding the best health care option for their families. Better known as Obamacare or the ACA, President Barack Obama’s signature domestic policy achievement has resulted in more than 8 million new insured people since it launched last year. This open enrollment round presents a second chance for the uninsured to purchase insurance via the program, and for insured people to reenroll in or change their existing coverage.
The process for signing up for Obamacare can be quite daunting to the uninitiated and even to those who used it last year. Mountains of rumors and misinformation have clouded the air around the health insurance marketplace, which, despite all the negative hype, often offers more affordable insurance plans than those of many private companies by taking advantage of the synergistic effect of its subsidies, pooling, competitive nature and other provisions.
In reality, however, the process for enrolling in health care via HealthCare.gov is a straightforward one, though it does require a small investment of time and some basic knowledge. Here's how to apply:
Open Enrollment Runs From Saturday Through Feb. 15
Insurance coverage purchased under Obamacare will take effect as early as Jan. 1. The later you enroll, the later your corresponding coverage start date will be, so anyone who needs insurance as soon as possible should apply as soon as they can. And people who need coverage for the remainder of 2014 should click this link to find out whether they qualify for a special enrollment period under the law.
Determine If You Are Eligible
Some immediate disqualifying details for participation include residing outside the U.S., not being an American citizen or national, and being in prison at the time you apply.
Review The Available Plans
This link will take you to a page whereupon entering your zip code, you will be delivered to the website for the exchange that serves residents of the state where you live. Take a couple of minutes to read over HealthCare.gov’s “one-page guide to the Health Insurance Marketplace” at this link.
Fill Out The Proper Application Forms
First, ensure that you have your Social Security number and information about your employer, income and current coverage ready to input into the application forms, as well as basic identifying and demographical details. Once you have everything together, go ahead and visit this website and navigate to the official application page. From there, you will need to select a plan and fill out the applications forms, which can be submitted online, by mail (this link will allow you to download a 2015 paper application in PDF format, while this one provides further instructions for by-mail applicants), by phone at 1-800-318-2596 or TTY at 1-855-889-4325 (the lines are open 24/7) or in person at a location where you can get help with the application process from a live “assister” (click here to find an in-person application site near you), and you will be on the road to being insured under Obamacare.
Returning Customers Still Need To Take Action
You can choose whether to keep your current plan, or to change to a different option, which could be an attractive choice, as a notice on HealthCare.gov advises that “[b]etter plans & prices may be available for 2015.” A new study released Thursday also predicted that shifting plans will be a good way for many Americans to save money on health insurance this year. Visit this website to keep or change your plan after open enrollment begins.
If you decide not to purchase health insurance for 2015, be aware that there are monetary penalties for failure to be insured. If you choose not to have health insurance coverage next year, you will pay either 2 percent of your annual household income or $325 per adult and $162.50 per child, with some qualifiers and exemptions. This link provides a detailed breakdown of all the exemptions and fees, which are significantly more expensive than they were in 2014.
Questions about anything from the application process to eligibility for the health care marketplace can be answered by calling the HealthCare.gov help line at 1-800-318-2596 or TTY at 1-855-889-4325, both of which are open 24/7. Or visit this website for further assistance.