As we head into the second annual open enrollment period to purchase health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, many Americans may be wondering what actions to take if they don't have health insurance and are eligible to purchase health insurance in the Health Insurance Marketplace. November 15 marks the official start of the new open enrollment period, the time of the year where those who are uninsured or who enrolled through the Marketplace last year can choose a health insurance plan for 2015.
Making the choice for individuals or families about a health insurance plan is a big decision so what do Americans need to know? Below is a guide to help navigate the decision-making process:
- Know the Deadlines: 2015 open enrollment in the Health Insurance Marketplace begins on November 15, 2014 and ends on February 15, 2015. In order to get health insurance coverage that starts January 1, Americans need to enroll by December 15, 2014. For those who enrolled in the Marketplace in 2014, coverage will continue January 1, 2015 if no action is taken, though you still have until February 15, 2015 to decide if you want to change a plan through the Marketplace.
- Determine Your Eligibility: Most uninsured Americans don't know what type of insurance they are eligible for. Most also don't know they can receive financial assistance to lower the costs of health insurance and care. To find out what you are eligible for, you can take advantage of free on-line tools like TurboTax health care eligibility calculator.
- You May be Eligible for an Exemption: There is an estimated 20 million uninsured Americans that may qualify for an exemption from purchasing health insurance and a tax penalty due to various reasons like income being lower than the IRS tax filing requirement (under10,150). For those who are unsure about whether they can qualify for an exemption, you can use Exemption Check, a free online tool on TurboTaxHealth.com that lets anyone without insurance determine if they are eligible to waive the health care tax penalty.
- Get Started Early: Those without insurance don't have to wait until November 15 to start researching what plans and options are available. Visit healthcare.gov or your state Marketplace today to understand the application process and begin browsing for 2015 plans and pricing. It's important to also gather the documents needed to apply using the Marketplace Application Checklist.
- Estimating your income: When applying for financial assistance in the Marketplace, the application requires an estimate of household income for 2015. In order to make an accurate estimate, it's important to know what figures will be counted as "income." Income includes wages, salaries, tips, net income from self-employment or business, unemployment compensation, social security and disability or alimony. It's also important that taxpayers add up these figures for anyone in their household: themselves, spouses and/or any dependents that make enough money to file a tax return.
- Re-enrolling or changing plans: Finally, those who enrolled in the Marketplace last year have the option to change their plan, re-enroll or take no action which would automatically re-enroll them in last year's plan. Make sure you check your plan to ensure your provider is still in network and benefits are the same as plans can change from year to year.
- Report Changes in Income or Family Size: Those who enrolled in 2014 coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace should report changes in household income or family size to the Marketplace before the end of the year if your income was higher than estimated at the time you received a subsidy or tax credit. Reporting these changes will allow adjustments to be made to your advance premium tax credit to help avoid paying any excess back at tax-time.
Choosing health insurance is without a doubt a big decision because it's about your family's well-being. It's important to consider all options before choosing a health care plan. The good news is there are tons of free resources out there like TurboTax Health, which offers tools and answers to common questions.