It’s that time of year again: the Health Insurance Marketplace’s Open Enrollment period is about to end (or has already ended for many). Fortunately, missing open enrollment doesn’t mean missing out on access to healthcare.
Open Enrollment for the Health Insurance Marketplace officially began on November 1, 2015 and ends on January 31, 2016. The three month period provides customers with an opportunity to obtain new healthcare coverage or exchange their old plan for a different one. Using the marketplace streamlines the often confusing purchasing process and helps people stay covered under the new Affordable Care Act (ACA) regulations.
According to Obamacare Facts, the ACA may not set a mandate to force citizens to purchase healthcare, but it does demand that those without health coverage pay a fee — specifically, for each month a person goes without coverage, they owe 1/12th of the yearly fee.
Despite the fee looming overhead, a large number of patients fail to enroll during the specified window when the marketplace is open for business. Three months slip by and, for whatever reason, they miss the deadline.
Working out the kinks of the system after the the passage of the Affordable Care Act made the enrollment period much looser in the past. Last year’s open enrollment period started with one deadline, then was extended at both federal and state levels, with some markets staying open for an entire six months.
This year, the period has been shortened to three months, with strict parameters preventing another extension. But these dates aren’t the same as last year’s, and the shifting window has caught many customers by surprise.
But the shifting windows is just one of numerous reasons people fail to join during the designated period. For patients navigating the process on their own, it can be confusing. Some people may procrastinate and put off finding health coverage until it’s too late. Since the window falls during the holiday season, people are busy and might completely forget or be overwhelmed by the thought of more major expenses.
Extenuating life circumstances can also prevent registering on time. A lost job, for example, would complicate the situation as people traverse COBRA and other confusing systems. Sometimes, the cost of insurance far surpasses the tax fee. And many people choose to forgo paying for health insurance they can’t use and pay the fee instead.
Past the Deadline
Luckily, even after the deadline there are certain exemptions for qualified individuals and alternatives for everyone else. A special enrollment period exists for people who could not obtain coverage because of a qualifying life event. More than 40 different events and exemptions, like losing a job or having a child, allow some leeway for enrollment.
As Health Markets reports, joint state and federal programs like Medicaid and CHIP do not have an enrollment period. These programs offer a helping hand to those with disabilities and limited incomes, and every year, millions of Americans rely on Medicaid and CHIP for coverage.
But coverage here likely means that those receiving care are experiencing some form of hardship, and they are depending on the government to provide care because they have no way to obtain it themselves. These agencies provide the type of care that most people are fortunate to not need.
Outside the Box
For anyone who didn’t experience qualifying life events or exemptions and doesn’t quality for Medicaid or CHIP, SingleCare offers an essential service. Without any premiums or monthly fees, SingleCare provides members access to reduced rates for a variety of medical services.
Patients can easily find providers through the SingleCare website and know how much they’re paying before going into the doctor’s office — you pay as you go, with no hidden fees. Even without a coverage plan, SingleCare has you covered.
(Main image credit: Goodshoot/Thinkstock)