Buzzer beater: Obamacare has a March madness deadline

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A deadline can be a powerful motivator because of the downside associated with missing one.

In the case of health insurance under the federal Affordable Care Act, individuals who lack coverage have a lot to lose if they miss the March 31 deadline for signing up.

Sure, penalties will be imposed on people who fail to get insurance for 2014. The fines will be either $95 or 1 percent of 2014 adjusted gross wages, whichever is greater. But that’s not the greatest drawback.

The significant loss for people who could get insurance but do not will be their lack of access to quality health care. That’s the reason for the big push — by advocates at the local and national level, by health care providers and by governmental and political leaders (Democrats, anyway).

People who make the mistake of failing to enroll by March 31 will miss the chance to buy coverage through the federal marketplace for 2014. That means they won’t qualify for subsidies toward the cost of their policies either. The only exceptions are for individuals who experience a “qualifying life event.” That includes losing coverage because you or a spouse loses a job or no longer qualifies for an employer plan; getting married, divorced or separated; giving birth or adopting a child; moving to a different state outside your plan’s service area; becoming a citizen; or turning 26 and losing eligibility under a parent’s plan.

Otherwise, people seeking individual health coverage will have to wait to enroll for 2015.

In Washington, Republican leaders who have orchestrated dozens of attempts to scuttle Obamacare are trying to gin up support for what they say is a new health insurance plan, one that would allow coverage to be purchased across state lines, guarantee policy renewals, shift from the federal government to the states and get more consumers onto private plans.

They're wasting their time. Every day, more Americans are seeing the advantages of obtaining coverage, including buying policies without being penalized or blocked because of pre-existing medical conditions, keeping young adults under a parent’s plan, getting annual checkups without paying a copay and other features of Obamacare that already are in effect.

Individuals who haven’t signed up yet don’t want to miss this deadline. They have too much to lose.


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