(Bloomberg) – The federal government will be using appeals from President Obama and his wife, Michelle, to try to get uninsured consumers to sign up for coverage by the March 31 public exchange plan enrollment deadline.
The government also is going to warn consumers about the new fines that will face some consumers who go without health coverage. Up until now, the government has left information about the new individual “shared responsibility” fines out of most Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) program advertising.
PPACA requires many individuals to get “minimum essential coverage” (MEC). Some individuals who fail to buy “MEC” may have to pay tax penalties equal to 1 percent of their taxable income.
Consumers can avoid having to pay the penalties by getting coverage from employers, government programs, traditional individual health insurers, commercial insurance sales websites, or the new PPACA public exchange prrograms.
Consumers who qualify for Medicaid or other government aid programs can apply for those programs at any time of the year.
Many consumers will “get MEC” by buying private “qualified health plan” (QHP) through the new PPACA public exchanges. The QHP open enrollment period started Oct. 1 and is now set to end March 31.
Some consumers will be able to buy QHP coverage after March 31 because they go through major life changes, such as a marriage or the loss of a job, or because they qualify for hardship exemptions. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has extended many other PPACA deadlines and might find a way to extend the individual QHP enrollment deadline.
For now, however, individual QHP market rules require consumers to buy coverage by March 31 or else wait until 2015 to get MEC.
About 4 million Americans have so far signed up for QHP coverage, and about 3.5 million more have enrolled in Medicaid, according to Avalere Health, a consulting firm.
The administration’s success signing up more people in the last month of enrollment will have repercussions for insurers, which must set rates for 2015 by the end of May, and in congressional elections this November.
“We’re not going to be happy until we reach the overwhelming majority of people who’ve been uninsured,” Ron Pollack, the executive director of Families USA, a consumer advocacy group allied with the White House, said in a phone interview. “There still continues to be a lack of information among a large portion of the uninsured about the new benefits that are available to them.”