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Shopping for health insurance at the last minute?

If you’re planning to purchase insurance through your state Health Insurance Marketplace and need it to be in place by Jan. 1, you must enroll by Dec. 23. That leaves you only four more days, people!

Some reminders and tips for last-minute shoppers.

1. Use our free online tool  HealthLawHelper.org. It will tell you what, if anything, you need to do about your current insurance situation, what type of financial help, if any, you may have coming to you, and what steps to take next.

2.  Check our FAQs. We've answered lots of questions about the new health care law over the last few weeks—maybe including yours! So check our previous posts.

3. Gather your documents. The questions you will be asked on your application will be 0 percent about your health and 100 percent about your finances. To answer them, you’ll need: a copy of your most recent tax return, information about your employer plan if you have one, some idea of your expected income for 2014, and Social Security numbers for everyone in your household.

4. Don't be surprised if your children are eligible for extra help. If you have children younger than 18 and an income somewhere in the middle of the scale, don’t be surprised to find your children qualify for government-paid coverage under the Children’s Health Insurance Plan (which may be called something else in your state). This is a good thing and does not affect your own eligibility to purchase a private health plan.

5. Don't be surprised if you're eligible for Medicaid.  In states that are expanding Medicaid to cover all households with an income of less than 133 percent of the Federal Poverty Level, you’ll either have to take it or go without financial help. We think you should take it. And, to answer a question many have asked, this new type of Medicaid doesn’t care about your assets. You can have a six-figure 401k or a paid-up four-bedroom house and still be eligible if your income is low enough.

6. Pay your premium promptly. Once you have signed up and received payment information from your chosen insurer, pay your first month’s premium immediately. Nationwide, per a new federal government rule, you’ll be covered if you pay by Dec. 31. Some insurers are willing to extend the deadline to Jan. 10, but some of the state-run marketplaces won’t allow it, so don’t push your luck.

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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