November 1 has become an important date for American adults, as it marks the beginning of 2017 Obamacare Open Enrollment. I typically renew my coverage on the first day of Open Enrollment so I don’t forget to sign up. After all, should I have a memory lapse, I risk falling into the great abyss of medical debt after a health crisis. In reality, if you want health insurance come January 1, you have to digitally complete your forms by December 15. Needless to say, that’s a very narrow window to make it happen.
Lord help us all
Keeping with my newish November tradition (since 2013), I traversed the breathtakingly terrible healthcare.gov to complete my enrollment before I wrote this article. The website is incredibly clunky, confusing, and goes periodically down, as it was this morning. I am among the millions of poor, unfortunate souls depending on the website to gain health insurance, even if the $100 million taxpayer tab bought us the worst launch since Google Glass.
If you wait, you won’t have insurance come January
Basically, you have between now and January 31 to sign up or renew your health insurance. There is the added caveat that if you wait until anytime after December 15 to sign up, your coverage is delayed past January 1, and you will have coverage gaps.
Then there’s the worst case scenario. If you don’t seal the deal before the end of January, and you don’t have employer-provided health care, you can quickly find yourself in a predicament. If you end up the hospital without insurance, bankruptcy is not out of the question, and your credit score will need its own visit to the ICU.
Penalties, subsidies, and sorry Charlies
Additionally, there is now a fine that’s levied by the IRS if you don’t have health insurance. In 2016, that fine, depending on your income, was approximately 2.5 percent of your income. The fines are widely expected to be higher in 2017, but the federal government hasn’t bothered publishing those figures at this point. So, your choices are narrowed down to paying a fine which has yet to be determined, or buying pricey coverage through the beloved garbage heap we call healthcare.gov.
In better news, signing up through healthcare.gov means that you can qualify for federal assistance that subsidizes your premiums. While millions of people are greatly assisted by these generous handouts, many middle-class earners, like yours truly, are just above the cutoff for subsidies, and will be bearing the brunt of the sky-high premiums.
Obamacare premiums are going up dramatically this year, which was front-page news last week. Some people are seeing their premiums rise deep into the double digits, and, in some extreme cases, they’re seeing an increase of more than 50 percent. For those who receive subsidies already, the cost increases will be somewhat mitigated through additional government support.
In the big picture, Obamacare is in deep trouble for a wide range of reasons including spiraling healthcare costs, declining competition in certain markets, and a sicker-than-expected population flocking to the exchanges. If you’re interested in the nitty-gritty of all of that, without any partisan spin, we have this in-depth piece on the latest hubbub on health insurance in America.
Obamacare urgently needs a policy fix from our national lawmakers, but Republicans and Democrats have yet to agree on how that would look. In the meantime, we’re stuck with a healthcare law that is extremely flawed on many levels.
Beyond the politics, it’s extremely important to protect yourself as a consumer and always have healthcare coverage. It’s more important than nearly anything in your life — it is not a luxury that you can afford to live without. Our profit-driven healthcare system means that if you end up without insurance during a catastrophic health crisis, you are at the mercy of your health providers.
Don’t tie together your fiscal and physical health: get health insurance during open enrollment. And don’t just take the cheapest option available and think you’re all set. Finding the best-available coverage for your needs will mean you can sleep tight knowing that you’re not one sickness away from financial ruin.
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