March Madness & Cover Oregon
<<< As final deadline looms, Oregonians may face a tax penalty for lack of health coverage >>>
…Oregonlive.com – March 21, 2014…
The March 31 deadline to secure health coverage is rapidly approaching, putting many Oregonians at risk of a tax penalty for failing to obtain insurance.
The state of Oregon is considering a special enrollment period to effectively extend the deadline to sign up for insurance. But that doesn’t necessarily mean the federal government won’t charge a tax penalty to those who don’t apply before March 31.
Since January, Gov. John Kitzhaber, U.S. Rep Kurt Schrader and others have been asking the federal government for special consideration for Oregon, so people can enroll in April without a penalty. It’s unclear how successful they’ve been, and Kitzhaber plans to announce the results next week.
In the meantime the message is clear, say officials, insurance carriers and agents: if you don’t have coverage, do what you can to sign up now. The longer you go without health insurance, the higher the potential penalty.
Adding a wrinkle to the deadline push is that consumers should expect delays in getting help to sign up. The last-minute frenzy is “unbelievable,” said agent Rick Skayhan of Leonard Adams Insurance in Portland. “All of a sudden the deadline is beginning to be noticed, and people are taking action.”
But many members of the public are still confused about the deadline and what it means.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care act, known popularly as Obamacare, calls for most people to have coverage by March 31 or face a tax penalty of as much as 1 percent of income. It’s called the individual mandate, and it’s based on how long a person is without coverage in a given year.
It’s unclear how successful or aggressive the federal government will be in pursuing penalties for the first year of the reforms. Moreover, the tax penalty is widely misunderstood, said Bob Dickes of Oregon’s Health CO-OP, one of two new insurance startups in Oregon. “People think the penalty $95, but it’s actually up to 1 percent of their income.”
Not only that, but for the first time people cannot buy private plans for 2014 after March 31 unless they meet certain requirements, such as losing their job. Dawn Bonder, head of the other startup insurer Health Republic, says much of the public isn’t aware of this new deadline.
There are some people exempted from the mandate, including people whose incomes are low enough that they don’t file tax returns, some religious groups and Native American tribes.
People who have already signed up for insurance should know that they still can change plans through March 31, and there’s plenty of reason they might want to.
For instance, people signing up through Cover Oregon may not realize that the website has displayed incorrect information for consumers in the past.
The exchange’s provider directory, intended to let people see what plans their doctors were a part of, had at times showed providers in some insurance networks when they actually weren’t, according to an alert sent insurance agents last month.
The provider directory has since been taken down from the public Cover Oregon website to avoid giving out bad information.
“If a provider is important to you it’s extremely important that you check” with your doctor or your insurance plan to verify they are in a plan network, Bonder said.
Not only that, but you might want to review your benefits to make sure you’re in the right plan. Consumers have until March 31 to change plans, even if they’ve already signed up for one.
Some benefits aren’t fully explained on the Cover Oregon website, meaning that plans may seem comparable when they really aren’t. Health Republic plans offer extra free doctor visits, for example, and some Oregon’s Health CO-OP plans use flat copays on some services, rather than applying them to the policyholder’s deductible, saving consumers money.
These details weren’t displayed on the website, but instead are contained in the summary of benefits that can be downloaded on Cover Oregon or obtained through an insurance agent..
Bonder says Cover Oregon has done a good job displaying a huge amount of information for consumers, and has made improvements to ensure accuracy.
But “consumers do really own the responsibility of not trusting the information displayed,” she said. “Go one step further and dig deeper into the details.”