Nov. 1. The day after Halloween. The unofficial beginning of the holiday season. It’s also the start of the open enrollment period for individuals not covered under an employer group policy to purchase health insurance coverage for next year.
While not as exciting as trick-or-treating, prepping for the Thanksgiving feast or Christmas shopping, open enrollment is an important time because the Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires most Americans to obtain health insurance coverage for their families and themselves.
Starting Nov. 1, you can buy health insurance online on healthcare.gov or directly from an insurance company until Jan. 31, 2016. To have coverage by the first of the year, however, you have to purchase a plan by Dec. 15.
The government may help you pay for this coverage
Under the ACA, you may qualify for a tax credit if your income is below a certain level. For example, a family of four with a household income of up to $97,000 could qualify for a tax credit. The credit is applied toward your insurance premium. In addition, you may also qualify to pay lower out-of-pocket costs (deductible, coinsurance and copayments).
It doesn’t cost you anything to see if you qualify for a tax credit.
Don’t forget! If you received a tax credit in 2015, you don’t automatically get one again in 2016. You need to reapply every year for the tax credit through healthcare.gov. Even if you’re planning to keep your same health insurance plan, you’ll need to reapply for the tax credit. Things like income changes, marital status and family size affect the amount of tax credit you may receive, so make sure your information on healthcare.gov is up-to-date.
What happens if you don’t buy health insurance?
There are about 176,000 Nebraskans who don’t have health insurance coverage, according to the Nebraska Department of Insurance. Under the ACA, if you aren’t covered by a health insurance plan, you may have to pay a penalty on next year’s federal income tax filing. In 2016, the penalty for not having health insurance coverage is $695 for every adult in your family and $347.50 for every child under 18, or 2.5 percent of your household income, whichever is greater.
Mark your calendar! Open enrollment starts Nov. 1!
After you put away the Halloween candy and before you start your Christmas shopping, mark open enrollment on your calendar. Make sure you’ve got the health insurance coverage you need before it’s time to ring in the New Year.
Need help picking a plan? Contact your broker or agent or go to nebraskablue.com.
By Cameron Arch, BCBSNE assistant general counsel