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Still Time for Some to Sign Up for Obamacare

By Rose Hoban

The deadline has now come and gone, but there are still options for signing up for Obamacare.

When the online exchanges first went live, the federal marketplace had multiple problems and glitches. As time went on, many of the bumps got ironed out; but in the meantime, many people got discouraged and stopped trying.

Even as the online registration process got easier, it still took consumers an average of six visits to complete their applications, spending between 20 and 30 minutes during each visit, according to Julie Bataille, a spokeswoman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

hammerdAnd on the last day, Monday, March 31, many people again found themselves locked out of the federal website as high demand crashed servers.

In North Carolina, if you attempted to sign up for health insurance through the exchange and got stymied, or could not finish before midnight Monday, there’s still time.

According to CMS, people who tried to enroll during the open enrollment period but did not complete the process by midnight March 31 will have a “limited amount” of additional time to finish up. Those whose paper applications are received by April 7 will be able to select a plan through April 30.

According to a blog maintained by CMS, consumers who had trouble finishing enrollment can log into their online Marketplace application and finish the enrollment process once they confirm online that they were still trying to enroll on March 31. The blog also said consumers can call to complete enrollment at 1-800-318-2596 and tell the person on the other end that they’ve been trying unsuccessfully to enroll.

In addition, people experiencing events that change their circumstances during the year, such as childbirth or job loss, may qualify for a special enrollment period outside of the annual open enrollment period (see list).

After the end of the open enrollment period, most consumers lacking health insurance coverage will be locked out of the individual insurance market until the beginning of the next open enrollment period, which starts on Nov. 15 and lasts through Feb. 15, 2015.

Those consumers will not be able to get effective coverage under a qualified health plan from the individual insurance market until Jan. 1, 2015 at the earliest.

Before that time, people needing insurance can still enroll in other kinds of insurance such as short-term or large group plans, as they have in the past.

However, short-term insurance plans do not qualify as creditable coverage, so short-term-plan enrollees will face a tax penalty for not being enrolled in a qualified health plan. That penalty can be hefty: It’s $95, or 1 percent of a person’s income, whichever amount is greater.

Qualifying life events that allow consumers to get insurance on the health insurance exchange outside of the annual enrollment period:

  • Marriage
  • Relocation to a new area that is outside the healthcare provider network of your current health insurance plan
  • Birth or adoption of a child/dependent
  • Losing existing health insurance coverage due to:
    • Job loss
    • Divorce
    • Changes in eligibility for Medicaid or Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP)
    • Expiration of COBRA coverage
    • Health plan being cancelled

  • Any of these problems encountered while attempting to enroll on the health insurance exchange qualify consumers for an extension:
    • Misinformation, misrepresentation, or inaction on the part of entities providing formal enrollment assistance
    • Enrollment errors due to technical issues
    • System errors related to immigration status
    • Display errors on marketplace websites
    • Delays in application transfers for consumers found ineligible for Medicaid or CHIP
    • Error messages
    • Unresolved casework
    • Misinformation about availability of premium tax credits for victims of domestic abuse who are married but not filing a joint tax return
    • Other system errors

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