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Obama Administration Will Allow More Time For Health Insurance Sign-Ups

Flickr Creative Commons Users/Compiled By Kelsey Proud, St. Louis Public Radio

The Obama administration says it will give people more time to sign up for health insurance through the federal online marketplace.

Although the official deadline is still March 31, federal officials told the Washington Post that anyone who started their application on healthcare.gov by Monday would have until sometime in April to complete it.

If you’re still uninsured after that, you will most likely have to pay a fee ― although there are some exceptions.

Ryan Barker, vice president for health policy at the Missouri Foundation for Health, said for 2014, the penalty for most people is $95 per adult, and $47.50 per child, or 1 percent of a person's annual income, whichever is higher. Barker said that distinction often confuses people.

“We hear a lot that it’s $95. Actually, it could be up to one percent of your income, and for most people that is the calculation, will be one percent,” Barker said.

As of the end of February, 74,469 Missourians had selected a marketplace plan.

Another 193,420 Missourians fall into what’s known as the “coverage gap.” They are Missouri’s poorest, making less than the federal poverty level, or $11,670 a year for an individual. Medicaid applies to the disabled or very poor people with children. Under the Affordable Care Act, Missouri opted not to expand its Medicaid eligibility limits, which means people without children can’t qualify for Medicaid coverage, regardless of how little they make.

They could buy health insurance through the online marketplace, but financial assistance is only available to people who make between 100 and 400 percent of federal poverty levels. Barker said for somebody making less than $12,000 a year, paying full price is not a realistic option.

But, he said people who would have qualified for Medicaid under expansion won’t have to pay a penalty for remaining uninsured.

If you add up the people in the coverage gap and those who have signed up for health insurance through the marketplace, that still leaves more than 500,000 uninsured Missourians who could face penalties for not having coverage.

“So, we still have a ways to go,” Barker said. He said there are about 400,000 Missourians who would be eligible for subsidies through the marketplace, but still haven’t signed up. “This first open enrollment period we’re hoping to break the 100,000 enrollment mark. That’ll be a good start.”

Barker said a lot of Missourians still do not understand their health insurance options. He put some of the blame for that on a 2012 law which prohibited state agencies from promoting marketplace sign-ups.

“Unlike other states, where their department of insurance has information on the website and is talking to consumers about the marketplace, we’re not getting any of that from our state government,” Barker said.

Barker said he expects enrollment to pick up in future years, after most people with no health insurance start getting hit with financial penalties.

He said one encouraging aspect of Missouri’s health insurance enrollment profile so far is the number of young people signing up for coverage.

“We have currently we have about 28 percent of enrollees are between the ages of 18 and 34,” Barker said. “We have another 4 percent that are children. So, we’re at about one-third young people.” Barker said about 40 percent of enrollees are between the ages of 35 and 54 and another 30 percent are between the ages of 55 to 64.

After this open enrollment period ends, people will still be able to sign up for coverage if they have what’s known as a “qualifying life event,” like getting married or having a baby.

For everyone else, the next opportunity to buy health insurance will start on Nov. 15.

Follow Véronique LaCapra on Twitter: @KWMUScience

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