Open enrollment ends Dec. 15; do you need to sign up for health insurance?
Should you sign up on the marketplace?
There are just two weeks left to sign up for health insurance coverage for 2019 on the Affordable Care Act marketplace. Open enrollment ends Dec. 15, and after this deadline, many consumers will not be able to sign up for comprehensive coverage without experiencing a qualifying event.
However, there is some conflicting information out there about the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. Due to changes in the policy enacted by President Trump’s administration, some consumers may think the law is no longer in place, which is not exactly correct.
Consumers won’t face tax penalties associated with lacking a qualified health plan in 2019, but much of the law is still intact. Whether you should sign up for Obamacare coverage before the deadline will depend on what kind of health insurance coverage you want or need.
Below, we’ll look at why the deadline matters, and what happens if you miss it.
What is open enrollment?
Open enrollment is the period during which consumers can sign up for individual plans via Healthcare.gov or state-based marketplaces.
These plans must cover consumers with pre-existing conditions, and premium subsidies are available to consumers at or below 400 percent of the federal poverty line.
Consumers can sign up for these plans from Nov. 1 until Dec. 15. After this time, the only way to sign up or change your plan is to experience a “qualifying event.”
A qualifying event is a life change that results in new insurance needs. These include having a baby, getting married or moving to a new state, among other experiences.
Without one of these events, you won’t be able to sign up on the marketplace if you miss the deadline.
Does that mean I can’t get insurance after Dec. 15?
Not exactly. There are other options for coverage in Tennessee outside of the Obamacare marketplace. One option is Farm Bureau Health Plans. These plans are sold year round, and you do not need a qualifying event to enroll.
Another option if you miss the open enrollment deadline is short-term coverage. The Trump administration expanded rules around these plans, so they now cover consumers for up to a year and can be renewed. However, they are less comprehensive than other types of insurance, which means they might not cover what you need.
Furthermore, both Farm Bureau Health Plans and short-term plans can deny consumers with pre-existing conditions, whereas Obamacare plans cannot.
This means that, for example, if you miss the open enrollment deadline and are diagnosed with diabetes in January, you may not be able to access these alternative types of coverage. Without a qualifying event, you would not be able to sign up for an Obamacare plan, either.
No coverage? No penalty
Unlike the past five years, not having health insurance in 2019 won’t cost you more in taxes. The Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate required most consumers to carry comprehensive coverage or pay a tax penalty, but the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 reduced that penalty to $0.
In other words, there is no penalty for lacking health insurance in 2019. This is good news for some consumers — especially those with Farm Bureau coverage. Because these plans were sold outside of Obamacare, consumers who chose them still had to pay the tax penalty. This year, there is no tax disincentive for choosing a Farm Bureau plan, which you can access outside of open enrollment.
Pre-existing conditions may drive decisions
Ultimately, whether you should sign up for a marketplace plan before open enrollment ends might come down to your health status. If you are not eligible for alternative coverage due to pre-existing conditions, you likely will want to sign up for an ACA plan while you have the chance.
If you miss the deadline, you won’t have another opportunity to get individual coverage without experiencing a qualifying event. Further, you can always drop your Obamacare plan if your situation changes — if you are eligible for a workplace plan later in the year, for example.
That said, if you have a pre-existing condition and want to ensure you are covered next year, you will likely want to make sure you sign up before Dec. 15 on Healthcare.gov.
This column was originally published in the The Tennessean.
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