My health plan got canceled. Now what?

Consumer Reports

First, don't panic. Chances are you have some very good options. Here's what you need to do:

1. Understand that you don’t have to take the company’s suggested replacement.

Many of the notices we have seen are worded in such a way that consumers have assumed they have no choice other than to accept the automatic, and usually more expensive, replacement the company selected for them. Nothing could be further from the truth. The new health care law gives people in the individual insurance market, who are the ones receiving these notices, more options than they have ever had before.  (Better late than never, the government today came out with this additional helpful information for people who’ve received these notices.)

2. Use CR’s  free HealthLawHelper tool to find out if you have financial assistance coming to you.

Seven out of 10 of the 5.2 million Americans with individual insurance have household incomes that may put them in line for tax credits that they can use right away to lower the cost of their premiums and possibly even help with out-of-pocket costs, according to a new analysis from Families USA, a nonprofit consumer health advocacy group. If you are one of them, it is very much in your financial interest to purchase coverage through your state’s Health Insurance Marketplace. It is the only way to get access to this help; you will be passing it up if you buy the company’s suggested replacement plan directly. HealthLawHelper will assess your potential eligibility without having to go through the lengthy process of filling out an application. (The tool will also tell you whether you or anyone in your family may qualify for Medicaid or CHIP. In that case you can enroll directly with those programs, as we recently explained.)

3.  Look at all your options on your state’s marketplace.

Granted, this is easier in states whose marketplaces are working well, like California, Connecticut, Kentucky, and Washington. But with enough perseverance it can be done everywhere, even if you live in one of the 36 states that chose to run their marketplaces through the IT-challenged HealthCare.gov. Here’s our most recent advice on creating a HealthCare.gov account, which you need to start your application. If you find the application difficult to navigate on your own, seek the help of a live trained person in your community. They’ve been grappling with the site for a month and a half now and know more than you do about its vagaries. There’s a searchable list of helpers at LocalHelp/HealthCare.gov. When you’ve gotten to the point where you can see the available plans, here’s our advice on how to pick the right one for you and your family.

4.Know the key dates.  

If you time it right, your coverage can remain seamless. If you enroll in a marketplace plan before the 15 th of the month, coverage will begin the first day of the following month. If you enroll in the last half of the month, coverage won’t start until the second following month, a wait of up to six weeks. There is a special later deadline of Dec. 23 for people who need new coverage to start on Jan. 1, 2014. If you wait until later in December, your coverage won’t start until Feb. 1.

Got a question for our health insurance expert? Ask it here; be sure to include the state you live in. And if you can't get enough health insurance news here, follow me on Twitter @NancyMetcalf.

Health reform countdown: We are doing an article a day on the new health care law until Jan. 1, 2014, when it takes full effect. (Read the previous posts in the series.) To get health insurance advice tailored to your situation, use our Health Law Helper, below.

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