The deadline has passed to enroll for 2014 health insurance coverage through the new state and federal exchange websites. In certain states, residents who contacted their exchange on or before March 31 will be able to complete their applications and get insurance for this year. If you did not begin the sign-up process in time, though, you face a potential tax penalty unless you qualify for an exemption.
How to get an exemption
Canceled coverage. If you were insured last year and your health plan was canceled in the fall of 2013, you may get a hardship exemption. You can still get a catastrophic-coverage plan, which likely has a cheaper monthly premium to you, but also a higher deductible, the amount you pay for medical services before any insurance kicks in. You'll need to contact your state's exchange.
Affordability. If the premiums for the lowest-cost insurance available would cost more than 8 percent of your household income, you won't be penalized for remaining uninsured. You would claim this on your 2014 tax return. You may be able to get a catastrophic-coverage plan on your state's marketplace.
Hardships. You can claim economic hardship for a number of reasons (see this complete list), including:
1. You experienced "financial or domestic circumstances," such as unexpected events, that prevented you from getting coverage
2. Buying a qualified health plan would cause you "serious deprivation of food, shelter, clothing, or other necessities."
3. You are homeless
4. You were evicted in the last six months or were facing eviction or foreclosure
5. You recently were a victim of domestic violence
6. You filed for bankruptcy in the last six months
7. You had medical expenses you were unable to pay in the last two years
8. You had unexpected expenses in caring for an ill, disabled or aging family member
To claim a hardship, contact your state's insurance exchange. You can find its website and phone number by selecting your state from the menu at the bottom of this page.
Incarceration. If you were jailed or in prison, you won't pay the penalty.
Religious beliefs. Certain religious groups who are conscientiously opposed to accepting insurance are exempt. To claim an exemption, apply through your state's exchange.
Federally recognized Indian tribes. If you are a member of a federally recognized tribe, you don't need to carry qualified insurance.
Medicaid. Some states have not expanded Medicaid to cover people of certain income levels. You may fall under this category if your income was less than 138% of federal poverty level but you made too much money for Medicaid in your state. For a single person, that amount was $15,856. It depends on your state, so contact your state exchange to see if you qualify for Medicaid.
Determining your penalty
If you don't get an exemption and go without a qualified health insurance plan for more than three months during 2014, you may have to pay a penalty when you file your 2014 tax return in 2015. Not every insurance plan is qualified under the law to exempt you from the penalty. The penalty will be the greater of either $95 per adult plus $47.50 per child (up to $285) or 1 percent of annual household income above an IRS-designated threshold ($10,150 for individuals) up to a maximum of about $3,600 per adult plus $1,900 per child.
For those who continue to be uninsured in 2015 and beyond, the penalty will rise substantially. In 2016 it will be $695 per person or 2.5 percent of income.
Other coverage options
You may still be able to enroll in a health plan for 2014 if you have a "qualifying event" such as the loss of your job or your spouse's job, marriage, divorce or birth of a child. Typically enrollment must occur through your state exchange within 60 days following the qualifying event.
Otherwise, check with your state's exchange or an insurance broker like eHealth (disclosure:U.S. News has a commercial affiliation with eHealth) for options that include short-term insurance and non-qualified plans. Such plans won't shield you from paying a tax penalty, but they can provide some protection against potentially ruinous out-of-pocket costs. Note that short-term health plans usually don't cover preexisting medical conditions, preventive care such as physicals, or prescription drugs.
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