With the tax return deadline looming on April 15th, a lot of consumers are getting hit with an uncomfortable realization regarding penalty fees under the Affordable Care Act. If you were eligible to sign up for health insurance last year but didn’t enroll, then you’ll probably see some extra costs tacked onto your tax bill next month. This year, the non-compliance fee will be assessed for the first time. That means you could pay the greater of $95 or 1 percent of your income on top of anything else you might owe the government in taxes. The fee increases substantially each year.
A Special Enrollment Period
Fortunately, there’s good news on the horizon for those who missed the 2015 enrollment deadline. Due to general confusion about the new law, uncertainty about the fees being charged and unfamiliarity with the federal marketplaces, the government is offering a one-time-only special enrollment period for certain people. If you’re looking at your taxes and realizing that you needed to sign up for health insurance, you may be in luck. Between March 15 and April 30 of this year, you can sign up for health insurance if you meet the following conditions:
- You have not signed up for a health insurance plan in 2015.
- You’re being charged the shared responsibility fee for not having insurance in 2014.
- While preparing your taxes, you realized that you had to pay the shared responsibility payment, and the open enrollment period for this year had already closed.
If you meet all of the above conditions, then you probably qualify for the special enrollment period that runs until 11:59 p.m. on April 30. According to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, about 2 to 4 percent of taxpayers will have to submit the shared responsibility payment with their taxes this year. In an effort to help those people avoid fees in the future, federal officials are offering a last-chance save for buying insurance on the federal exchanges.
Most states are from March 15 – April 30, however some have altered their dates slightly. Here’s a complete list:
Fees Going Forward
Keep in mind that this 2015 special enrollment period differs from the special enrollment period that’s already available to people who experience qualifying life events such as the loss of a job, marriage or adoption. One of the goals of the Affordable Care Act was to make access to health insurance easier. The marketplace already allows people with special circumstances to enroll throughout the year as long as they meet eligibility, but this new enrollment period is specifically designed for those who simply didn’t understand the implications of the shared responsibility fee.
After this year, the government is less likely to offer extra enrollment periods because they’ll be expending more effort to educate consumers on their responsibilities under the ACA. As it stands, you have to sign up for health insurance during the open enrollment period each year unless you qualify for an exemption. If you choose not to enroll, then you owe a shared responsibility payment. Going forward, these fees will jump from 1 percent to 2.5 percent by 2017. Fees continue to increase every year due to inflation.
Help When You Need It
To make things easier on consumers, the government is offering a wide range of options for finding help with enrollment during this special sign-up period. National tax preparers, local nonprofits and others are working with the federal government to provide support for those who don’t understand how this all works. If you need help signing up or want to check whether you qualify for the special enrollment period, then start by visiting HealthCare.gov/get-coverage and filling out the screener tool. You can also call the federal marketplace customer service line or visit the general site to get started. Don’t wait too long. This special enrollment period lasts only until April 30. If you don’t sign up for health insurance and pay your premiums before then, you’ll be charged the shared responsibility fee next year. Get started here.