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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
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.