ROCKINGHAM — Open enrollment for 2017 health insurance through healthcare.gov begins Tuesday, and here’s what Richmond County residents need to know in order to avoid losing existing coverage and fines imposed on the uninsured.
The schedule, from HealthCare.gov:
• Nov. 1, 2016: Open Enrollment starts — first day you can enroll, re-enroll, or change a 2017 insurance plan through the Health Insurance Marketplace. Coverage can start as soon as Jan. 1, 2017.
• Dec. 15, 2016: Last day to enroll in or change plans for coverage to start Jan. 1, 2017.
• Jan. 1, 2017: 2017 coverage starts for those who enroll or change plans by Dec. 15.
• Jan. 31, 2017: Last day to enroll in or change a 2017 health plan. After this date, you can enroll or change plans only if you qualify for a Special Enrollment Period.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Affordable Care Act was passed by Congress and then signed into law by President Obama on March 23, 2010. On June 28, 2012 the Supreme Court rendered a final decision to uphold the health care law.
The law has come under fire for raising the cost of healthcare while mandating fines levied against the uninsured, despite its best intentions out of the gate, which included protection of coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, the ability to purchase healthcare coverage when none is provided by the workplace, and eliminating lifetime limits to coverage.
N.C. Department of Insurance Assistant Director for Public Information Colin Day, in an email to the Daily Journal, explained that the penalty for non-coverage “is collected by the IRS, and is calculated on a specific basis for each taxpayer (whether) individual or family.”
“The penalty is the greater amount of a percentage of an individual’s household income or a flat dollar amount,” Day explained.
According to IRS.gov, in 2015 the annual payment amount was the greater of either 2 percent of income above the filing threshold, or a flat dollar amount of $325 per adult and $162.50 per child up to a cap of $950 for a family.
“Also note that the payment is capped at annual national average premium for a bronze level health plan available through the Marketplace which was $2,784 annually (or $207 per month) for an individual and $12,240 annually ($1020 monthly) for a family,” Day added.
N.C. Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin said he would like to be able to do more to simplify the process and costs of purchasing health insurance in the state, but his powers concerning health insurance are weak.
“I always regret when rates increase, and I do everything within my power to keep insurance rates as low as possible for every North Carolinian,” Goodwin said. “Unfortunately, as state insurance commissioner I do not have the same authority over health insurance as I do for car insurance and homeowners insurance — lines of business where prices are much better. If the federal and state governments had not limited my authority over health insurance, then I could help consumers in a more substantial way.”
Richmond County Director of Health and Human Services Dr. Tommy Jarrell said that because North Carolina does not have a state marketplace, applications for coverage under the ACA are handled directly by the federal government.
“Those applications are then screened, or flagged, based on the information provided when the form was filled out,” he explained. “If something in the application suggests they may qualify for Medicare, those applications are referred back to the county to see if they qualify for that first. Only then does the federal government make a decision about reduced rates for coverage under the Affordable Care Act.”
To obtain or continue coverage for 2017, visit www.healthcare.gov and fill out or update the online application.
Reach reporter Melonie McLaurin at 910-817-2673 and follow her on Twitter @meloniemclaurin.