My Turn: Last minute advice for people who need health insurance

  • By KEVIN COUNIHAN
  • Monday, January 25, 2016 1:01am
  • Opinion

When the clock ticks towards midnight on Jan. 31, there’ll be no crowds in New York’s Times Square and families and friends won’t be gathered at festive parties. But like New Year’s Eve, on Jan. 31, I’ll be counting down until the clock hits midnight.

That’s because as CEO of HealthCare.gov, my mission is to help as many individuals and families as possible access quality and affordable health insurance. And Jan. 31 is a very important deadline. If you, or someone you love, still needs coverage for 2016, you have until Jan. 31 to sign up for a plan at HealthCare.gov. It’s important to know that if you miss this deadline, you’ll likely have to wait another year to enroll, and you may have to pay a penalty when you file your federal income taxes.

I’ve worked in the health insurance industry for many years, and because of that people often ask me for tips about signing up for coverage. With the final deadline now less than a week away, I wanted to share some last-minute advice about enrolling at HealthCare.gov.

The first thing to know is don’t be intimidated. Enrolling for health insurance can sound complicated, but at HealthCare.gov we’ve worked hard to make picking a plan and signing up for coverage easier than ever. This year, HealthCare.gov has new tools, like a feature that helps you easily determine which of your doctors and prescriptions are covered by each plan before you enroll. We’ve also made the application simpler – in a matter of minutes, you can apply for coverage, and you can even apply on a cell phone or tablet.

Another tip is that coverage is likely more affordable than you think. Eight out of ten people who sign up for coverage at HealthCare.gov qualify for financial help to lower the cost of their monthly premiums. After this financial assistance, seven out of 10 people can find plans with premiums for less than $75 dollars per month. If you’ve delayed getting covered because you think it’s too expensive, take a few minutes to review your financial help options at HealthCare.gov.

Finally, as we near the deadline, it’s important to know that this year the penalty is increasing if you can afford coverage but choose not to enroll. Last year, the penalty for not having health insurance was $325 per person or 2 percent of your annual household income – whichever was higher. For 2016, the penalty increases to $695 or 2.5 percent of your household income. For example, a family of four with an income of $70,000 would pay a fee of over $2,000.

No family should live in fear that one unexpected illness or accident could throw them into financial turmoil. Everyone deserves the security that comes with knowing you can fill your prescriptions, take your children to the doctor, and get care to stay healthy when you need it. The best option for most people is to learn about the choices and financial help available at HealthCare.gov and to enroll in a plan that meets their needs.

People planning to enroll at HealthCare.gov should avoid the last-minute rush and sign up early. If you have questions or want to talk through your options, enrollment specialists are available all day and every day at 1-800-318-2596. Free, confidential, in-person assistance is also available at enrollment sites and events in many communities. Visit LocalHelp.HealthCare.gov to find assistance in your community.

While I’ll be up late on Jan. 31, counting the final seconds before the deadline, you don’t have to be. Instead, I hope you’ll be resting assured with the peace of mind that comes with knowing you have insurance that will keep your family healthy for 2016.

• Kevin Counihan is the CEO of HealthCare.gov

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