Today’s the last day for Obamacare enrollment on the federal marketplace, healthcare.gov. Individual insurance consumers who miss this deadline won’t be able to select health insurance for 2018 without a special circumstance like a job loss or marriage.
The Obamacare enrollment deadline is for individual insurance customers in the 39 states that use healthcare.gov — people who already have a plan and also those who want to sign up for the first time. From the start of Obamacare open enrollment on Nov. 1 through Dec. 9, some 4.7 million consumers have selected a health insurance plan on healthcare.gov, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, and experts expect a last-minute surge as the Obamacare deadline approaches.
Consumers in some states that operate their own health insurance exchanges have more time to enroll in Obamacare, as those states have set later deadlines. (If you’re one of the roughly half of Americans who get group health insurance through your job, these deadlines don’t apply to you, nor do they apply if you’re on Medicare or Medicaid.)
The individual mandate under Obamacare still stands as of now: You’re required to have health insurance or pay a penalty at tax time, unless you qualify for a limited number of exemptions. The penalty for going uninsured is $695 per adult, $347.50 per child, or 2.5% of your income above the tax filing threshold, whichever is higher. The tax reform bill that Congress is set to vote on next week reportedly would reduce the penalty for going uninsured to $0 starting in 2019, a provision that the Senate included in that chamber's version of the tax reform bill.
Here’s what you need to do to make sure you have Obamacare health insurance in 2018:
Technically, you have until 3 a.m. Eastern Time on Dec. 16, or midnight Pacific Time, to enroll in Obamacare. But you may need to make calls during regular business hours to help you complete your application.
Some customers who froze their credit reports, as many did in the wake of the Equifax data breach, have encountered problems with the system verifying their identities, Kaiser Health News reports. A call to another credit bureau, Experian, has helped resolve the problem in some cases. But this process can take time.
Review & Update Your Info on Healthcare.gov
If you’re already enrolled in Obamacare through healthcare.gov and you take no action, then the system will automatically re-enroll you in 2018 coverage. It’s best not to let this happen. For starters, some carriers have exited the health insurance market for 2018, and your old Obamacare plan might not be available anymore. In that case, you could get re-enrolled in a health insurance plan that you don’t like; if so, you'll qualify for a special enrollment period, which gives you more time to pick an alternate plan.
Go to healthcare.gov and review the information that the system has on file about you. Update your projected income for 2018, as this will affect your subsidy eligibility. Consumers making up to 400% of the poverty level—in 2017, that’s $48,240 for an individual and $98,400 for a family of four—qualify for government assistance to lower their monthly premium costs. This money is paid directly to the health insurance company on your behalf.
If you don’t update your projected income, then you could wind up receiving more assistance than you’re eligible for, and you’ll have to pay back the difference when you file your 2018 taxes. If you receive less than you’re eligible for, you’ll get a refund.
Evaluate Your Options For Obamacare
You might find that your health insurance subsidy goes farther than it did last year. Big increases to premiums of benchmark silver plans for next year year mean that some lower-tier bronze plans cost consumers nothing in monthly premiums—that is, $0 a month. Just keep in mind that bronze health insurance plans come with higher deductibles than silver or gold plans, leaving you on the hook for more if you visit the doctor frequently because of a chronic condition or unexpected accident.
There’s a doctor-search tool on healthcare.gov that allows you to search for health insurance plans under Obamacare where your doctor is inside the network, meaning lower costs for you. If it’s important to you to continue seeing certain doctors, it can’t hurt to call them to confirm that they take plans you’re considering. Tell the doctor’s office the full plan name, not just the carrier name, to be sure.
You’ll generally need to pay your first month’s premium to have your coverage start Jan. 1, 2018.
This story has been updated to clarify the rules for people whose 2017 Obamacare plans have been discontinued.