5 options if you missed the health care deadline

CONNIE CASS, Associated Press
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FILE - This March 31, 2014 file photo shows applicants waiting to be called during a health care enrollment event at the Bay Area Rescue Mission in Richmond, Calif. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File)

FILE – This March 31, 2014 file photo shows applicants waiting to be called during a health care enrollment event at the Bay Area Rescue Mission in Richmond, Calif. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — It’s not too late to get covered. A few routes remain open for those who missed the health care law’s big enrollment deadline.

Millions may be eligible for a second chance to sign up for subsidized insurance this year. And people who get coverage after the deadline can still avoid, or at least reduce, the fine for going uninsured.

Here are five options for those still without insurance:

1. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE GRACE PERIOD

This special break was created for anyone who began enrolling in an insurance marketplace by Monday’s deadline but didn’t finish. That includes people stymied by website outages or overwhelmed phone lines, missing information on applications, and other problems or confusion.

Those who started an application on HealthCare.gov by March 31 should log on and finish it as soon as possible. Federal officials say they will take what time is necessary to work through cases pending.

People applying online will have until April 15 to finish, administration spokesman Aaron Albright said Tuesday. Paper applications will be accepted until April 7.

Consumers will have to attest that they had tried to enroll by March 31.

Rules vary in the 14 states running their own insurance marketplaces.

For most people, going through a marketplace opens the door to lower costs. Those who use the grace period will get coverage starting May 1 and won’t owe a fine.

Raul Chavez of Shakopee holds his head as he starts on his MNsure application at Portico HealthNet, Monday, March 31, 2014, in St. Paul, Minn. (AP Photo/Star Tribune, Glen Stubbe)

Raul Chavez of Shakopee holds his head as he starts on his MNsure application at Portico HealthNet, Monday, March 31, 2014, in St. Paul, Minn. (AP Photo/Star Tribune, Glen Stubbe)

2. USE A SPECIAL ENROLLMENT PERIOD

The government also is offering special extensions for a host of problems that might have prevented people from signing up through a marketplace: Natural disasters. Domestic abuse. A serious illness. Mistakes by application counselors. Errors by insurance companies.

To seek a “special enrollment period,” contact the federal call center, at 1-800-318-2596, or your state marketplace and explain what went wrong. It’s on the honor system. If the extension is approved, that brings another 60 days to enroll.

Also, at any time during the year, certain life events — such as changing jobs, getting married or divorced, or becoming a parent — open a 60-day window to sign up for marketplace coverage.

A waiting area is filled with applicants waiting to be called during a health care enrollment event at the Bay Area Rescue Mission, Monday, March 31, 2014, in Richmond, Calif. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

A waiting area is filled with applicants waiting to be called during a health care enrollment event at the Bay Area Rescue Mission, Monday, March 31, 2014, in Richmond, Calif. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

3. SIGN UP FOR MEDICAID

Those who qualify can still enroll in Medicaid — there’s no deadline. Eligibility is based on income and varies from state to state. About half the states expanded their Medicaid programs. The main beneficiaries of the change are adults earning up to about $16,100 per year, with no children living at home. Previously, Medicaid was limited mostly to poor children and their parents and people with disabilities.

Kha Moua Vang takes paper applications at Portico HealthNet as the MNsure website became overloaded, Monday, March 31, 2014, in St. Paul, Minn. (AP Photo/Star Tribune, Glen Stubbe)

Kha Moua Vang takes paper applications at Portico HealthNet as the MNsure website became overloaded, Monday, March 31, 2014, in St. Paul, Minn. (AP Photo/Star Tribune, Glen Stubbe)

4. BUY INSURANCE OUTSIDE THE MARKETPLACES

Buyers can always go directly to an insurance company, but it may be expensive. Plans bought outside the marketplaces don’t come with government subsidies that hold down the cost for people with low or mid-level incomes. But they do include the law’s consumer protections. For example, insurers can’t turn down customers because of pre-existing medical conditions.

Even after the deadline, buying a plan that meets the law’s essential coverage standard reduces the penalty owed, which is based on the number of months without coverage.

The fine for going uninsured all year is the greater of two formulas: about 1 percent of household income above the tax-filing threshold of $10,150 or $95 per adult and $47.50 per child under 18, up to $285 per family. It’s due to the IRS in April 2015.

Elizabeth Rich points to a web page for the Affordable Care Act as she helps people sign up for health insurance at Swope Health Services Monday, March 31, 2014, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Elizabeth Rich points to a web page for the Affordable Care Act as she helps people sign up for health insurance at Swope Health Services Monday, March 31, 2014, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

5. GET READY FOR NEXT TIME

Open enrollment for 2015 is coming later this year. It’s scheduled to begin Nov. 15 and run just three months. That’s another chance to get covered or switch into a plan with subsidies.

Supporters of the law are calling on President Barack Obama to make things easier next time around.

The advocacy group Families USA suggested a bunch of improvements Tuesday, including more face-to-face sign-ups, coordinating enrollment with tax-filing season so people better understand the fines, and improving coordination with Medicaid programs.

Something to think about: The uninsured penalty next year rises to 2 percent of income or $325 per adult and $162.50 per child.

___

AP writer Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar contributed to this report. Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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