- Associated Press - Monday, March 10, 2014

Uninsured Americans face an important deadline at the end of this month, and many don’t realize it.

March 31 is the last day to sign up for health insurance coverage and avoid a penalty for failing to obtain insurance for 2014 under the federal health care overhaul.

The Obama administration says about 4 million people have signed up so far through the overhaul’s insurance exchanges, which allow customers to buy coverage with help from income-based tax credits or subsidies. The percentage of those customers who were previously uninsured is unclear.

Only 24 percent of the uninsured polled last month by the Kaiser Family Foundation knew that March 31 is the deadline. Some 5 percent thought the deadline had already passed, and another 2 percent thought there was no deadline, according to the nonprofit foundation, which studies health care issues.

Make no mistake, there is a deadline. Here are answers to five frequently asked questions as the deadline approaches.


Yes. If you wanted coverage that started Jan. 1. Insurance coverage generally starts the first day of the month, and insurers need a couple of weeks to process applications. So those who want coverage that starts April 1 should submit an application no later than March 15.

If you sign up between March 15 and March 31, your coverage probably won’t start until May.


There are a couple ways you could be hurt financially.

The first, and most obvious, is by paying a tax penalty based on the size of your annual household income. That can amount to a penalty of either $95 per adult and $47.50 per child under 18, which tops out at $285 per family, or a penalty totaling 1 percent of taxable annual income, whichever is greater.

That 1 percent could translate into a penalty totaling several hundred dollars depending on how much you make above the minimum gross income level required for filing a tax return. For instance, an individual who earns $50,000 could face a $400 penalty based on the 2013 minimum gross income level of $10,000 for an individual.

There are several exceptions to this coverage requirement and the fine that comes with it, noted Jennifer Tolbert, a health care overhaul expert with Kaiser. One of the biggest is for people who can’t find coverage that costs less than 8 percent of their taxable annual income.

The mandate to obtain health insurance also provides a three-month grace period, so anyone uninsured for less than three months in 2014 won’t have to make this payment. Those who are uninsured for part of the year pay a penalty based on how many months they are uninsured.

The other financial risk comes from incurring a big medical expense without coverage. A doctor’s visit can cost more than $100, and the price for a major surgery, like a joint replacement can stretch into six figures.

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