The way individual consumers purchase health insurance changed dramatically last October with the opening of the Health Insurance Marketplace, which created an online experience for consumers to compare products and pricing. The Marketplace “storefront” will remain open through March 31 — and once it closes, consumers will be unable to shop for insurance on the Marketplace until it re-opens on Nov. 15. Blue Cross is encouraging consumers to select their plans early to avoid a last-minute rush that can result in longer wait times to enroll. “We encourage consumers not to wait until the last minute to shop for individual insurance, and get enrolled in a plan now,” said Terry Burke, vice president of individual business for BCBSM. “Have you ever waited until the night before Thanksgiving to go grocery shopping? Or waited until Christmas Eve to start shopping? Stores are overwhelmed and the wait in line can take hours. "Likewise, we’re anticipating a high volume of Marketplace enrollments, likely resulting in very high call volumes between March 10 and March 31. Smart consumers will research the plan options and enroll now.” Nearly half of Americans are aware of the March 31 deadline to buy health insurance, according to Bankrate’s latest Health Insurance Pulse survey. While the data show an increase in public awareness, the same survey reports that one in four believes the final deadline passed on Jan. 1 or that the requirements are no longer in effect. Just as consumers don't receive a product immediately when ordering online, there is a short gap between enrolling in coverage and when the coverage becomes effective.
- If you want coverage to begin by March 1, the deadline to enroll is Feb. 15.
- If you want coverage to begin by April 1, enroll between Feb. 16 and March 15.
- If you want coverage to begin by May 1, enroll between March 16 and March 31.
In addition to key enrollment deadlines, consumers should be aware of the financial impacts of not enrolling in a plan:
- Tax penalty: Those who miss the March 31 deadline may be subject to a tax penalty on their 2014 federal tax return.
- Gambling with their health: Those who miss the March 31 deadline will not be able to enroll again until November 2014, for coverage starting in January 2015, leaving them vulnerable to the extreme financial risks that go along with living uninsured.
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