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Sign Up for Obamacare by March 31 to Avoid Fees and, Possibly, Higher Medical Bills

txking / Shutterstock.com
Peter Z. Scheer
Managing Editor
Peter Scheer grew up in the newspaper business, spending family vacations with his mother at newspaper editors' conferences, enjoying daycare in editorial departments and begrudgingly reviewing his father's…
Peter Z. Scheer

txking / Shutterstock.com

The open enrollment period for 2014 ends in just a few days. If you want to buy a plan on the health care exchanges, you’d better hurry.

The next open enrollment period doesn’t begin until Nov. 15, 2014. Those who have a “qualifying life event,” for example people who move or marry, will be eligible for special enrollment.

There are two good reasons to go ahead and sign up.

First, it’s required by law, and unless you have health insurance already, you will face a penalty of $95 per person or 1 percent of household income, whichever is higher. In addition to the penalty, you will be on the hook for all of your medical expenses.

Those who have insurance through their employer, the government or an existing individual plan are exempt, but consumers with so-called grandfathered plans, the latter group, may still be interested.

The reason is that the Affordable Care Act puts strict regulations on the plans purchased through the exchanges and those plans also offer new benefits. Insurers are much freer to take out the cost of those benefits on people who are not protected by the ACA, those with plans purchased outside of the exchanges.

For example, ACA plans must cover mental health and drug addiction the same way they cover physical health crises. So, people who need therapy may find they’re better off with an ACA plan. ACA plans also can’t discriminate against those with pre-existing conditions, which is not true of the non-ACA individual market.

When my existing insurer notified me that premiums would be going up drastically, I found a platinum ACA plan that offered better coverage for about $40 less a month than what I would be paying. So, at least for this blogger, the benefit of sticking with the grandfathered plan is not apparent.

That said, this is not to endorse the ACA or tell people how they should handle their own health care needs. Everyone is a unique butterfly and figuring out which plan is best takes a lot of investigation, frustration and waiting on hold. Signing up is still difficult, although in my experience that had more to do with the insurance companies than the feds. The point is simply this: There is a deadline looming. If it doesn’t apply to you, congratulations. If it does but you prefer to ignore it and pay the fine instead, that is your choice, but you should know you’re making it.

This is the famous website. Good luck.

— Posted by Peter Z. Scheer

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