- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Obama administration pleaded Sunday with uninsured Americans to sign up on the Affordable Care Act’s exchanges, warning it is their “last chance” to get health insurance for the year.

“This is important: If you don’t sign up for health insurance today, you won’t be covered this year,” the administration warned in email alerts to HealthCare.gov customers in 37 states that use the federal exchange.

Officials said they have fixed technical hiccups that had thwarted some new users who submitted their income for verification on Saturday. Those customers will get some leeway to complete their applications after the deadline.

Otherwise, the administration has been adamant in sticking to the Feb. 15 deadline to sign up. It is a stark turnaround from last year, when widespread problems on HealthCare.gov and some state-run portals created a series of sliding deadlines throughout the enrollment season.

Some advocates are pushing the Department of Health and Human Services to offer a special enrollment period to those who miss the deadline and then realize they have to pay a tax for failing to hold health insurance under the Obamacare’s “individual mandate.”

The penalty for lacking coverage in 2014 was the greater of $95 or 1 percent of household income above the filing threshold. In 2015, it is $325 or 2 percent of income.

The Health and Human Services hasn’t said whether it will grant that request, as it tries to herd customers into the exchanges before Sunday’s deadline.

State-run portals increased their outreach over the weekend, with Covered California promoting a trio of public events in Los Angeles — including one targeting Latinos, a key demographic of uninsured Americans — while the D.C. health exchange touted its “Keep the Faith” series of enrollment opportunities at churches in the nation’s capital.

Health and Human Services estimated that 10 million new and returning customers had signed up for 2015 coverage in the Obamacare marketplace as of Feb. 11, and that 87 percent of them qualified for government subsidies to help them pay their monthly premiums.

People who used HealthCare.gov received an average subsidy of $268 per month from taxpayers.

Those subsidies could be in jeopardy later this year.

The Supreme Court will rule by June if the IRS has been unlawfully extending the tax credits to customers on the federal exchange, since the Affordable Care Act seemed to reserve subsidies for exchanges “established by the state.”

Without the subsidies, many federal-exchange enrollees would drop coverage, seriously denting the fragile economics of Obamacare.

Health reform advocates aren’t warning customers about a pivotal case, saying some customers don’t even know about the financial assistance to begin with, and that they do not want to scare off customers before the case is even argued.

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