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White House gives uninsured Americans a second chance to buy Obamacare

  1. The Obama administration has created an Obamacare "special enrollment period" for uninsured Americans who learn, while filing their taxes, that they'll face a penalty for not having coverage.
  2. The special enrollment period will run on Healthcare.gov from March 15 to April 30.
  3. About half of America's uninsured say they've heard little or nothing about  the tax penalties they would owe for not buying a plan, a recent survey found.

Uninsured Americans get a second chance to buy Obamacare

Healthcare.gov's open enrollment period to buy coverage for 2015 ran from November 15 through February 15. But the White House announced Thursday that it will allow some uninsured Americans a second chance to sign-up — and avoid hundreds of dollars in financial penalties for not carrying health insurance this year.

Obamacare's individual mandate requires nearly all Americans to purchase coverage or pay a fine. This year, the fine for not carrying health insurance coverage is $325 or 2 percent of income.

Americans can use the special sign-up period if they meet three conditions:

  1. They do not currently have health insurance coverage through Healthcare.gov
  2. They confirm that they only learned about the individual mandate penalties while filing their taxes
  3. They attest that they have paid the government whatever fees they might owe for not buying coverage in 2014

Administration officials say that this special enrollment period will only happen this year because the health care law is so new, and many Americans may not have heard about the penalties they would face for not buying a plan.

"Our intention is this is one year only, for people who have not been in the communication loop around the tax penalty," Medicare principal deputy administrator Andy Slavitt told reporters Friday.

The new policy only applies to the 37 states that rely on the federal Healthcare.gov. States that run their own marketplaces, like California and Maryland, will get to decide whether they want to follow suit.

The new enrollment period will give uninsured Americans a second chance to avoid penalties for not having coverage in 2015. It will not, however, allow tax filers to dodge any Obamacare penalties they owe the government for not carrying coverage in 2014. If shoppers didn't buy coverage last year, they will be on the hook for either a penalty of either $95 or 1 percent of income, whichever is greater.

Shoppers will also have to pay a penalty for the months they spent uninsured in 2015. If someone buys coverage in April that begins in May, for example, the government will still fine them one-third of the total penalty for remaining uninsured for four months (January through April).

Awareness of Obamacare's tax penalties is low

Forty-four percent of uninsured Americans have either heard "nothing" or "a little" about the Affordable Care Act's penalties for not carrying coverage, the Urban Institute found in a recent poll.

urban

(Urban Institute)

"These results suggest that a special enrollment period could help a significant segment of the remaining uninsured who learn about the penalties when they file their 2014 tax returns," the study authors write.