Feb. 13--Time is ticking down with just three deadlines left for Americans to enroll for health insurance before they face tax penalties under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
The end of Saturday is the deadline for enrollment, but a local health underwriter is urging those wanting their coverage to kick in beginning March 1 to finish the enrollment process by 2 p.m.Kelly Fristoe with Financial Partners in Wichita Falls said the hub of information used to verify enrollment applications will be unavailable from 2 p.m. Saturday until 4 a.m. Tuesday because of system maintenance.
"My advice for people, (if they're going to enroll) is to do it before 3 p.m. EST, which will be 2 o'clock our time," he said. "Otherwise, there're going to be glitches."
Insurance coverage for people who enroll after maintenance begins on the system this Saturday will begin April 1.
According to CMS, "Individuals attempting to complete the application process on healthcare.gov during this (maintenance) period will not be able to immediately receive an eligibility determination/assessment from the marketplace. Upon completion, those consumers will need to save their application and return to healthcare.gov on or after (Feb. 18) to complete the enrollment process for coverage to begin on (April 1)."
However, the CMS release also said people who enroll by the end of Saturday can call the Federal Call Center at 800-318-2596 starting Feb. 18 to request their coverage to begin in March.
Fristoe said the flow of people coming in to enroll for coverage has been like the roll out of the federal exchange website -- calm before the storm. He said there was an initial rush in December for a Jan. 1 effective date, then another similar increase in traffic before Jan. 15 to meet the Feb. 1 start date for coverage.
"This week, my calendar is starting to fill up fast with people calling in here to beat the Feb. 15 deadline for the March 1 effective date," he said.
There are two other significant sign-up deadlines remaining after Saturday's date including March 15 for an April first start date for coverage, and March 31 when the enrollment period ends and unenrolled Americans face a penalty on next year's federal income tax. Those who enroll from March 16-31 will have a May 1 effective date.
Fristoe said one particular challenge they face is getting people who have coverage through the Texas Health Insurance Pool to enroll before the March 31 deadline. He said those policies end March 31, and if they aren't enrolled in an insurance plan before the end of the federal enrollment, they won't have coverage come April 1 and will also pay a penalty.
The health underwriter also urged people who aren't sure what plan to choose to speak with a professional who can help by considering lifestyle, budget, utilization of health care and others. He said it's not a good idea to select a plan based on cost alone.
Follow John Ingle on Twitter @inglejohn1973.
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