Uninsured Unaware of Looming Obamacare Deadline

The Fiscal Times
Businesses Consider Dumping Employee Health Coverage
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Businesses Consider Dumping Employee Health Coverage

There are just four days left until the end of open enrollment on March 31, yet most uninsured people are still unaware of that deadline.

Kaiser Family Foundation released a tracking poll Wednesday showing six in 10 uninsured adults did not know about next Monday’s deadline to sign up for health coverage under the new exchanges.

After March 31, people without health insurance will be subject to a tax penalty of $95 or 1 percent of their annual income--whichever is greater. That penalty will come out of their 2015 tax return.

Related: Obamacare--Taxpayers in the Hole for $1.5 Trillion

Still, the survey found about half of the uninsured say they will remain without health coverage this year.

Though most of these people will likely pay a penalty, there are several exceptions including the “hardship exemption” which allows people to be waived from the penalty if they claim to have a financial hardship that prohibits them from affording health insurance.

For those who have not purchased health coverage but plan on doing so, they may have more time beyond next Monday. The Obama administration announced Wednesday that people who have begun the application process but are encountering issues with the website will be given extra time after March 31 to complete their applications.

Related: Total Costs Tell the True Story of Obamacare

Officials said the extension was granted to assist consumers struggling with website issues.

“We won’t close the door of those who tried to get covered and were unable to do so through no fault of their own,” said Julie Bataille, a spokeswoman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid. “Those who were in line or had technical problems with the website can quickly come back and sign up as soon as possible.” It is not clear how much time consumers will have to complete the process. 

Still, Republicans jumped on the announcement—questioning whether the administration has the authority to change the law’s deadlines.

“What the hell is this? A joke?” House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said at a press conference on Wednesday. “Another deadline made meaningless. If he (President Obama) hasn’t put enough loopholes in the law already, the administration is now resorting to an honor system to enforce it.” 

In order to get an extension, consumers must attest on their applications that they were unable to complete the process by March 31. CMS officials said there isn’t a way to confirm whether their claims are valid, but they will likely accept them regardless. 

Related: Obamacare Spells the End of Employer-Based Coverage 

The Kaiser survey results also suggests a lack of successful outreach among the uninsured and low-income people who say they will stay uninsured due to financial reasons. About 40 percent of respondents said they were not aware that they could potentially receive federal subsidies to make their health coverage more affordable. More than half said they did not know the law expanded Medicaid in about 25 states.

A separate analysis released by Kaiser Family Foundation on Thursday revealed that about 3.5 million people have qualified for federal subsidies totaling about $10 billion. The analysis organized the subsidy recipients by state and found that the subsidies were mainly doled out to people in five large states including California, Florida, North Carolina, New York and Texas. The study suggested that other states should follow their outreach efforts in the future in order for more people in other states to receive federal subsidies.

“If all states signed people up at the rate of the top 5, there would be $8.6 billion more in ACA tax credits flowing,” Kaiser Family Foundation’s Larry Levitt tweeted Thursday.

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