Breakthrough Patient Recruitment

: Countdown is on for Health Insurance Coverage

Countdown is on for Health Insurance Coverage

Managing Editor

March madness is one way to describe the rush of people trying to get health insurance coverage before the March 31 deadline to enroll through the public health insurance marketplaces. It's no secret that the rollout of the public exchanges was rocky at best and embarrassing and dysfunctional at worst-necessitating an apology from the administration. And although many of the technical glitches are getting ironed out and people are enrolling in droves, there continue to be PR challenges.

Just last month, on National Youth Enrollment Day-a day to encourage the "young invincibles" to enroll for health insurance coverage-the healthcare.gov website was down for maintenance. The unexpected hiccup meant that yet another enrollment deadline was pushed. The deadline for coverage for March 1 had been February 15. The maintenance meant people got until February 18 to enroll. The shifting deadlines are a common theme. The deadline to enroll by the first of the year was pushed from December 15 to December 23 before being pushed another 24 hours to December 24. Will this March 31 deadline also be pushed? According to a poll in January, 63 percent of respondents believed that the deadline will be extended beyond the end of this month.

What's more--and even more concerning--is that more than one-half of Americans are unaware that the deadline to enroll is March 31. Despite copious news coverage and information blasts, far too many people remain in the dark about what they need to do to get health insurance coverage.   

So if you're like so many people who wait until the last minute to do anything--including signing up for health insurance--here are some things you should know.

  1. The best time to visit healthcare.gov to enroll is the morning, evening, or weekends. Logging in during the day may mean slower system response times.
  2. If you have waited until now to enroll, you have until March 15 to receive coverage by April 1. If you wait until after March 15, you will not get coverage until May 1.
  3. If you miss the deadline entirely, the penalty for this year will be $95 dollars per person or 1 percent of your annual income. But remember, the fines increase each year. Next year the penalty will result in a $325 fine or 2 percent of your annual income.

It's still too early to call this a complete communications fail, but there's no denying that health communicators have their work cut out for them in terms of both explaining the law and in convincing people that they should enroll for coverage.

If you find that you are still confused about the basics of the Affordable Care Act (regardless of whether you have already have coverage), the Kaiser Family Foundation is an excellent place to start.

Remember, despite technical issues and extended deadlines, the Affordable Care Act is now the law. It's not going to go away--at least not any time soon. So take some time to educate yourself, and take some time to protect your health.

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The Healthy(ist) blog is a platform to share, learn about, and debate topics related to public and social health, scientific research, health communications, and behavior change.
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