Few taking advantage of special health insurance enrollment period

Few taking advantage of special health insurance enrollment period

April 12th, 2015 by Kate Belz in Local Regional News

A laptop shows the HealthCare.com web site during an Affordable Care Act enrollment event in this Feb. 12, 2015, photo.

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.


Hit with the tax penalty for being uninsured this year? The penalty goes up to 2 percent of your household income next year. You may qualify for a special enrollment period to sign up for the coming year if you:Currently are not enrolled in coverage for 2015
Can attest that you owe the fee for not having coverage in 2014
Attest that you first became aware of the penalty while preparing your taxes.
The special enrollment period runs until April 30, 2015. Go to healthcare.gov to learn more.

The following numbers of people enrolled in health insurance plans over the exchanges during this year's regular enrollment period.
Tennessee -- 229,093
Georgia -- 536,929
Alabama -- 168,816

Last-minute tax filers who were uninsured this year may be in for a rude awakening when they realize just how much the penalty for not having health insurance hurt their tax refunds -- and how much it will increase next year.

Luckily for them, the federal government is still allowing a "special enrollment period" until April 30 especially for those latecomers. But local navigators and brokers say they have had few people take advantage of the offer.

"Those calls are definitely few and far between," said Andrew Hetzler, COO of Chattanooga-based broker American Exchange, which specializes in the new marketplace.

At Erlanger Health System's community health centers, "less than five" people have enrolled during the new window, though more have inquired about it, said Katherlyn Geter, the hospital's manager for Affordable Care Act-related enrollment.

"We are seeing traffic here, but most of the people who come in are not eligible for this special enrollment," said Geter. Many, she said, fall into the Medicaid gap -- meaning they do not make enough money to qualify for federal subsidies, but they cannot get TennCare because state officials decided not to expand coverage.

Nationally, few people appear to have taken advantage of the extension. Federal officials have said only 36,000 people nationwide signed up during the first month of the special enrollment period.

Nancy Ridge, navigator with the Chattanooga Medical Foundation, said no one has come there for assistance to apply for the special enrollment period.

"I don't know if people are aware that they do still have to enroll in a plan in order to avoid that penalty this year," Ridge said. "We hope that people facing that will come ask for help."

The fee for people who don't have coverage this year will increase sharply next year, to $325 per person or 2 percent of household income -- whichever is higher.

The lack of interest may be awareness, but it may also be because the qualifications to enroll are so particular, Hetzler said. To qualify for special enrollment, shoppers must attest that they paid a penalty for not having coverage last year; that they are not enrolled in a plan for 2015; and that they only found out about their penalty when they filed returns.

Despite the lack of interest in the special enrollment, Hetzler and the navigators say they have been approached by people needing help with the new health insurance component of paying taxes.

"This is going to be a unique season because people are doing their taxes and finding out they're getting the penalty, or people who did get marketplace coverage who are going to tax assisters and realizing they need help with the health insurance paperwork," said Geter.

This year, those who bought marketplace plans are required to use a form called the 1095-A, which was mailed out by the IRS, to help fill out new tax forms. Many 1095-A forms were mailed out with errors this year, causing confusion for those trying to fill out the proper paperwork on their taxes this year.

American Exchange has been helping people file for extensions while they track down the correct paperwork to complete their taxes.

"We haven't been picking up a lot of business right now during the off-season, so we're focusing on customer service like this," Hetzler said.

Contact staff writer Kate Belz at kbelz@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6673.