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It May Not Be Too Late to Enroll

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
Carol Gentry
The Florida Channel
Dr. Maite Casanova at an enrollment event on Monday, March 31.

Enrollment in health insurance plans is continuing, and navigators in Florida are still working to help people pick plans.

Jodi Ray, who directs the USF grant program that contracts with navigator groups, said the contracts haven't expired so the navigators are still available at the same places they were before -- some community centers, health clinics, and so on.

(Go to this page and click on "find local help." You can type in your zip code and get a list.)

A few routes remain open for those who missed the health care law’s big enrollment deadline. People who get coverage after the deadline can still avoid, or at least reduce, the fine for going uninsured.

Here are options for those still without insurance:

1. Take Advantage of the Grace Period.

This special break was created for anyone who began enrolling in an insurance marketplace by Monday’s deadline but didn’t finish. That includes people stymied by website outages or overwhelmed phone lines, missing information on applications, and other problems or confusion.

Those who started an application on by March 31 should log on and finish it as soon as possible. Federal officials say they will take what time is necessary to work through cases pending.

People applying online will have until April 15 to finish, administration spokesman Aaron Albright said Tuesday. Paper applications will be accepted until April 7.

Consumers will have to attest that they had tried to enroll by March 31.

In Florida, more than 90 percent of those who enrolled through the marketplace as of the last federal report received tax credits for lower premiums. Those who use the grace period will get coverage starting May 1 and won’t owe a fine.

The fine for going uninsured all year is the greater of two formulas: about 1 percent of household income above the tax-filing threshold of $10,150 or $95 per adult and $47.50 per child under 18, up to $285 per family. It’s due to the IRS in April 2015.

2. Use a Special Enrollment Period.

The government also is offering special extensions for a host of problems that might have prevented people from signing up through a marketplace: Natural disasters. Domestic abuse. A serious illness. Mistakes by application counselors. Errors by insurance companies.

To seek a “special enrollment period,” contact the federal call center, at 1-800-318-2596, and explain what went wrong. It’s on the honor system. If the extension is approved, that brings another 60 days to enroll.

Also, at any time during the year, certain life events — such as changing jobs, getting married or divorced, or becoming a parent — open a 60-day window to sign up for marketplace coverage.

3. Sign Up for Medicaid or a County Health Plan.

Those who qualify can still enroll in Medicaid — there’s no deadline. Eligibility is based on income and varies from state to state. In Florida, eligibility is limited mostly to low-income children, pregnant women and the disabled.

About half the states expanded their Medicaid programs to take in uninsured low-income adults, but Florida was  not among them. That means most adults cannot qualify for Medicaid in Florida.

Expansion of Medicaid to cover those low-income uninsured -- nearly 800,000 Floridians -- is still technically alive in the Florida Legislature, but it is not being heard by committees because of continuing opposition by House Speaker Will Weatherford and other House Republicans. 

Some counties in Florida, especially the most populous ones, have health plans for low-income uninsured people that can at least provide primary care, and sometimes assist with hospital care. The navigators in each region should know.

4. Get Ready for Next Time.

Open enrollment for 2015 is coming later this year. It’s scheduled to begin Nov. 15 and run three months. That’s another chance to get covered or switch into a plan with subsidies.

Supporters of the law are calling on President Barack Obama to make things easier next time around.

The advocacy group Families USA suggested a bunch of improvements Tuesday, including more face-to-face sign-ups, coordinating enrollment with tax-filing season so people better understand the fines, and improving coordination with Medicaid programs.

Something to think about: The uninsured penalty next year rises to 2 percent of income, or $325 per adult and $162.50 per child.