Only one month left to get health insurance for 2014

Consumer Reports

Today starts the one-month countdown to the end of the first-ever annual Open Enrollment period under the new health care law. If you don’t have insurance, you have until March 31 to sign up. If you miss that deadline, the next time you’ll be able to purchase health insurance is next fall’s Open Enrollment period, for coverage that begins Jan. 1, 2015.

I’ve been getting questions about health insurance enrollment for months now that have given me a pretty clear picture of where people get confused or go astray. Here's what to do if you fall into any of these six top “no idea what to do now” categories.

  1. I don’t even know where to start. We created our free interactive tool, HealthLawHelper.org, just for you. Answer a series of simple (and anonymous) questions and you’ll find out whether you may qualify for financial help or for a government program such as CHIP or Medicaid, and, most important, find out where to go and what to do next.
  2. I don’t understand how the health tax credit works. This is a special type of tax credit that you can use right away, if you want, to reduce the cost of your health insurance premium. It’s based on income and household size and will be calculated automatically when you file your application for coverage. Using it can be a little confusing though, which is why we have another interactive tool, HealthTaxCreditTool.org, to help you figure it out.
  3. I’m confused about what counts as income. Under the new system, applying for health coverage is akin to preparing your income tax return, which makes sense because tax credits and other financial help are based on your Modified Adjusted Gross Income. What’s that? Our annotated Form 1040 will help you sort it out. And HealthCare.gov, the much-maligned but now functional federal marketplace site, also has helpful information.
  4. I don’t know how many people are in my household. Financial help depends on your “household” size but can become confusing because it’s not just a matter of counting up people who live under one roof. It all has to do, again, with income tax filing status. Basically, everyone who goes in a single tax return is a household, even if, in some cases, they aren’t living together. On the other hand, your roommate or unmarried partner are separate households. Here’s a helpful primer from HealthCare.gov.
  5. I’ve been trying to get insurance through my online state Health Insurance Marketplace but my application is hopelessly messed up. One approach is to clear your browser’s cache and start over with a new account. But if you’ve already tried that and gotten nowhere, it’s time to call in an actual human being to help. You can start with the call center listed on your marketplace website, but frustrated consumers have told me they’re frequently backlogged or not equipped to deal with thorny questions. If the call center can’t help, turn to one of the thousands of trained, noncommercial helpers who can supply personalized assistance free—and who at this point, five months into Open Enrollment, have a lot of experience with problem applications. Go to LocalHelp/Healthcare.gov, enter your location, and you’ll see a list of such helpers near you. Best to call ahead for an appointment.
  6. I have no idea which plan to choose. This is a good problem to have, because it means you’ve successfully made your way through the hard parts of the application. There’s more to picking a good plan than just knowing the premium. Here’s our guide on what factors to consider.

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.

We're providing regular coverage of the new health care law. To get health insurance advice tailored to your situation, use our Health Law Helper, below.



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