Between the federal health insurance website’s translation flaws, clunky navigation and additional application steps, buying health insurance in the age of Obamacare has been especially frustrating for the Latino community.Rumors that signing up for health insurance via CuidadoDeSalud.gov puts undocumented relatives at risk for deportation has also contributed to an aversion to Obamacare health insurance exchanges. In a March 2014 town hall meeting, President Obama stated, “None of the information that is provided in order for you to obtain health insurance is in any way transferred to immigration services.”
The Affordable Care Act is, however, helping make it possible and affordable for those who have never had health insurance to buy it. Fortunately, government websites have improved and there are trained people available who can explain and answer questions about the health care law, health insurance and the application process both in-person and over the phone.
We’d like to provide you with some straightforward information about the health insurance exchanges and how you can shop for and enroll in coverage online as well as over the phone or face to face with another person. Furthermore, state-based and federally facilitated health insurance exchanges are not the only place to get health insurance.
What are the health insurance exchanges?
Health insurance exchanges are collectively known as the Health Insurance Marketplace and were created as a result of the Affordable Care Act. They are operated by your state, the federal government or both, depending on what option your state selected prior to 2014—some states may change who operates their exchange in 2015.
Consumers can use these exchanges to find out more about the health insurance plan options available to them and their families, determine if they are eligible for financial assistance to help lower health insurance costs, and enroll in health insurance coverage. Individuals and families can also use the exchanges to determine whether or not they are eligible for no-cost and low-cost health insurance through Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).
How can I buy exchange-based health insurance?
You do not have to buy health insurance online. You do not even have to buy from a state-based or federally facilitated exchange, but we will talk about that more in the next section. However, financial assistance such as premium tax credits and cost-sharing subsidies are only available for exchange-based health insurance plans.
If you want to purchase health insurance from an exchange, here are four ways to apply and enroll:
If you live in a state participating in the federal exchange, visit CuidadoDeSalud.gov (Spanish) or HealthCare.gov (English). If you live in a state that operates its own exchange, visit your state’s exchange website. Not sure what kind of exchange your state has? Click here for a list of exchange websites by state.
2. Over the phone
Call 800-318-2596 for English and 800-318-2596 for Spanish. These numbers are toll-free and available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
3. In person
There are people and organizations in your community who can answer your health insurance questions and help you apply and enroll. To locate them, visit localhelp.healthcare.gov (English) or ayudalocal.cuidadodesalud.gov (Spanish).
4. By mail
You can complete a paper application and send it by mail. However, this method is not recommended close to the enrollment deadline. Here are links to the application and instructions:
- Application for Health Coverage + Help Paying Costs
- Instructions for the Application for Health Coverage + Help Paying Costs
When do I have to enroll by?
The enrollment deadline for 2014 health insurance coverage that fulfills the individual mandate was March 31, 2014. The 2015 open-enrollment period will be Nov. 15, 2014, through Feb. 15, 2015. Certain life circumstances may allow for a special enrollment period outside these dates
If you do not qualify for an exemption and fail to buy minimum essential coverage on or away from a health insurance exchange, you may face a tax penalty when filing your 2015 income taxes. Visit cuidadodesalud.gov/es/exemptions to learn more about exemptions. If you miss open enrollment for 2014, you will have to wait until 2015 open enrollment to buy health insurance that fulfills the individual responsibility requirement, unless you qualify for a special enrollment period.
If you are financially eligible, you can enroll in Medicaid and CHIP plans at any time.
Are there alternatives to exchange-based health insurance coverage?
You do not have to buy health insurance from an exchange. The private marketplace also offers health insurance plans that fulfill the individual mandate. You can buy them online, over the phone or by mail through a website such as www.healthedeals.com, directly from a health insurance carrier, or from a health insurance agent.
Like exchange-based health insurance plans, private marketplace plans are only available during open enrollment, unless you qualify for a special enrollment period. Health insurance purchased away from the state-based and federally facilitated exchanges will not qualify for financial assistance.
If you miss the enrollment deadline or choose not to buy health insurance, you may face a tax penalty. According to HealthCare.gov, tax penalties for 2014 are whichever of these amounts is higher:
- 1 percent of your annual household income above the tax-filing threshold, which is $10,150 for an individual—the maximum penalty is the national average yearly premium for a bronze plan
- $95 per adult and $47.50 per child under 18—the maximum penalty per family is $285
Tax penalties will increase in 2015 and beyond.
Opting out of health insurance may also put your household in a financially risky situation. Having some form of health insurance can help pay for unexpected medical bills and protect your finances should you or someone in your family become ill or have an accident.
At any time of year, you can still secure affordable health insurance benefits to help pay for medical expenses. Options may include the following:
- Medicaid or CHIP – Visit https://www.healthcare.gov/do-i-qualify-for-medicaid/ to learn more in English and https://www.cuidadodesalud.gov/es/do-i-qualify-for-medicaid/ to learn more in Spanish. These plans do fulfill the individual mandate.
- Temporary health insurance plans, which are also called short-term medical insurance plans. This type of health insurance provides short-term benefits from 30 to 364 days, depending on your state’s laws. Covered expenses may include inpatient and outpatient hospital care, outpatient emergency room visits, ambulatory care and surgical services, in addition to other health care services. These plans do not fulfill the individual mandate. Visit www.healthedeals.com to obtain a temporary insurance quote or call 888-839-7679.
- Hospital indemnity insurance plans provide fixed-dollar benefits for medical expenses related to hospitalizations, surgery and outpatient therapy services. These plans do not fulfill the individual mandate.
Again, you may still face a tax penalty if you do not buy a qualified health insurance that fulfills the individual mandate. However, you may find the penalty and monthly premium amounts save you money.
¿Hablas español? ¿Preguntas?
Call 888-839-7679 to talk to a Spanish-speaking, health insurance agent from www.healthedeals.com. We can walk you through options on and away from the state-based and federally facilitated health insurance exchanges, explain alternative plan options, estimate your financial assistance eligibility if you buy from an exchange, and answer questions you have about health insurance and the Affordable Care Act.