You’ve beaten the deadline for filing your taxes and April 15 is behind you.
Whew! But if you’re one of the hundreds of thousands who decided not to get health insurance in 2014 and instead pay the penalty, you may have been surprised at the size of the penalty and now thinking twice about that strategy.
Covered California reports that at least 22,000 people have reconsidered and signed up for health care coverage. Although open enrollment is officially over, they were able to take advantage of a special enrollment period that Covered California is offering for people who didn’t realize the penalty for going without health coverage was steep and getting steeper.
Olga Ten of San Francisco is one of those who just enrolled. She was unaware of the tax consequences until a co-worker mentioned she could face a penalty if she was uninsured. The 29-year old editor for a news agency did some research, contacted an insurance agent and enrolled in a Bronze plan through Chinese Community Health. She also qualified for up-front income tax credit that lowers her share of the insurance premium to $25 per month.
“It certainly gives me a feeling of security and relief to be covered without putting too much pressure on my budget,” she said.
The special enrollment window ends April 30. Covered California, the agency that administers so-called Obamacare in this state, is reminding consumers that enrolling by the end of April will help them minimize the penalty for not having insurance in 2015. Consumers who remain uninsured in 2015 but were eligible to enroll risk a hefty tax penalty of $325 per adult in a household ($162.50 per child under 18) or 2 percent of their income, whichever is greater when they file their taxes next year. For a family of three earning $60,000 a year, that penalty could be $1,988.
“If you didn’t realize the tax consequences of not having insurance, it’s not too late to enroll,” said Covered California Executive Director Peter V. Lee. “You can enroll in a Covered California plan by April 30, which not only minimizes your tax burden but provides you and your family with affordable medical care you deserve when you need it.”
The new tax penalty for being uninsured — known as the “shared responsibility payment” — motivated many consumers to purchase insurance this year during the Nov. 15, 2014-Feb. 15, 2015, open-enrollment period via Covered California. Unfortunately, many people who are supposed to purchase insurance may be unaware of the penalty and surprised when they go to their tax preparation professional for help.
As a result Covered California established a limited time category through special enrollment. Consumers can still by stating that they did not realize there was a tax penalty. To attest to this fact, they can select “Informed of Tax Penalty Risk” when filling out a special-enrollment application through a certified insurance agent or enrollment counselor.
“During the final weeks of open enrollment, Covered California served consumers who literally went straight from their tax adviser to a certified enroller after learning they would lose hundreds of dollars because they were uninsured in 2014” Lee said.
“We know this will continue as more and more people do their taxes and discover how this new era of health care works. We don’t want there to be any surprises, and we want to make sure that everyone who is eligible gets covered.”
Lee expects a final surge by consumers for coverage will add to robust numbers from the recently-completed second open enrollment when nearly 500,000 Californians signed up.
In Los Angeles County, 143,895 consumers newly enrolled for 29 percent of the total statewide. Approximately 67 percent of Los Angeles County consumers chose a silver plan.
Nearly nine out of every 10 new enrollees qualified for some level of financial help for 2015. Over the first two years of enrollment, about 1.4 million consumers have signed up.
Lee said uninsured residents can still get covered by going to www.CoveredCA.com, where consumers can find the nearest Certified Enrollment Counselor or Certified Insurance Agent to help them enroll. Consumers can also call the Covered California Service Center — at (800) 300-1506 — where a representative will help them.
In addition to Covered California’s special-enrollment opportunities, consumers may also be able to qualify for Medi-Cal, which has year-round enrollment.
Roy Kennedy is a public information officer for Covered California.