Clock is ticking to sign up for January coverage
If you still need to enroll in government-required health insurance, Dec. 23 is the final day to complete enrollment and choose a health plan for anyone who wants coverage to begin Jan. 1, 2014.
With the deadline quickly approaching, the federal health marketplace website and phone help lines can be expected to be a bit busy. But don't worry. We've asked a variety of local enrollment experts to share their best advice to get through the application and selection process, and here's what they had to say:
1. Two things before you start:
— You need an email account if you're applying through the federal website, http://www.healthcare.gov. If you don't have one, set one up first.
— Have your personal financial information ready for the application. Some examples of the kind of information you'll need: Social Security numbers and birth dates of all family members being covered, tax returns and paycheck stubs to document family income, and information on current health insurance, if you have any.
2. Apply online
A paper application option was available for a time, but cut off earlier this month for anyone hoping to see coverage start Jan. 1 because time ran out to receive and process those applications on time.
The feds are still offering around-the-clock help applying over the phone. But the wait for help over the phone could be long over the next few days. And there are dozens of health plans available that might be most easily compared by seeing the details for yourself on the website.
More application tips: Keep your user ID and password unique. Be sure and double-check your answers and make a pdf and hard copy of your application.
3. Which website?
There are state and federal health marketplace websites, and depending on your income, you might not need to go near the federal website that has had so many problems.
The state website at GetCoveredIllinois.gov is largely for information and screening to direct applicants to either the federal website for a private health plan or to a state benefits website to apply for Medicaid, the government coverage option for the needy.
If you don't know whether you need private insurance or Medicaid, start with the state website. It has a simple screening tool that will direct you to the right location.
Another quick option: Champaign County Health Care Consumers has provided a simple chart showing income cut-offs for Medicaid and private insurance with subsidies, and which website you need to apply for either. Find it at: http://bit.ly/1gIRAaB
One thing to keep in mind about Medicaid applications: Illinois Medicaid doesn't have an open enrollment period, so people can apply for it anytime.
4. Weigh all costs
When you're picking a health plan, remember the premium price is only part of what's going to come out of your pocket. Don't forget to take into account costs such as co-payments and deductibles.
5. Troubleshooting tips:
— If you already tried to enroll on the federal website, ran into problems and couldn't set up an account and are trying again: Set up a new account. You can use your same email address, but pick a different user name than the one you used before.
— You think your tax subsidy has been miscalculated or something else is wrong with your application: Delete this application and do another one, using your same healthcare.gov account.
— If you're having a problem with healthcare.gov and are thinking about calling the government help line, first try doing a second application. A lot of problems are solved just by starting a new application.
6. When to pay
There wasn't a clear answer for everyone about the due date for the first premium payment as of Friday. Maybe by the end of the month, maybe you have a little extra time, but it's safest to check with your selected health plan to be sure.
The deadline to make the first premium payment has been Dec. 31 for coverage starting Jan. 1, but America's Health Insurance Plans, a national trade organization representing health insurers, has called for an extension until Jan. 10 to provide extra time for those encountering problems with the federal website and enrollment process.
Two Illinois insurers that say they are extending the deadline to Jan. 10: Health Alliance Medical Plans and Land of Lincoln Health.
7. You can still get in-person help:
— Campaign for Better Health Care is still scheduling one-on-one enrollment appointments, and says it will also make every effort to monitor voicemail and emailed questions over the weekend. Contact this organization at 352-5600 and firstname.lastname@example.org.
— The Champaign-Urbana Public Health District at 201 W. Kenyon Road will be fully staffed with trained enrollment helpers from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday.
— Elsewhere on Monday: Call ahead at other public health districts in East Central Illinois for availability of in-person helpers, advises Jeff Rinderle, lead agent for the 17-county enrollment region.
— All locations for in-person help are available by ZIP code search online at: getcoveredillinois.gov.
8. Help on the phone
— Illinois's enrollment help-desk hours have been extended and are now 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. through Dec. 23. Call 866-311-1119.
— Federal help line, staffed 24/7: 1-800-318-2596.
— Try your selected insurer for help. Land of Lincoln Health, the co-op health plan offered statewide in the marketplace, says it will be staffed throughout the weekend and through midnight Dec. 23, and will walk health plan applicants through the entire process from start to finish on the phone if they call and ask.
9. Beware of fraud
There aren't any licensed, legitimate health navigators who will solicit you with offers to enroll you in Obamacare coverage.
10. Oh, no!
Time got away from you and you didn't enroll.
Remember Dec. 23 is the deadline to enroll for those who want coverage to begin Jan. 1, but folks can actually remain legally uninsured into the first three months of 2014 as open enrollment extends through March 31.
After March 31, 2014:
— Most people remaining uninsured will face financial penalties.
— There won't be another chance to get health coverage for 2014 through the government marketplace unless you have a qualifying life event, such as birth, divorce or loss of a job.
Sources: Champaign County Health Care Consumers, Campaign for Better Health Care, Champaign-Urbana Public Health District, Land of Lincoln Health, Health Alliance Medical Plans, http://www.healthcare.gov