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Know Your 'Obamacare' Health Insurance Deadlines

By Kevin S. Austin
WebMD Health News

Reviewed by Lisa Zamosky

Dec. 19, 2013 -- If you want new health insurance through the Affordable Care Act starting Jan. 1, you're running out of time. There's good news, though.

Consumers now have until Jan. 10, 2014, to make their first payment on insurance that takes effect New Year's Day. They still have to enroll for a health plan in their state's Marketplace by Dec. 23, 2013, to receive that Jan. 1 coverage.

The latest deadline change came Wednesday from America's Health Insurance Plans, the national trade association representing the health insurance industry.

The payment deadline had been Dec. 31, 2013. Although each health plan has the option to make its own decision, it's expected that most major carriers will go along with the new payment deadline.

Keep in mind, that's for the 36 states where the federal government runs the Marketplace. If you live in a state that runs its own Marketplace, your deadlines might be different.

You can still get insurance for 2014 if you sign up after the Dec. 23 enrollment deadline -- you just won't have coverage starting Jan. 1.

The new law has already had multiple "key dates" for consumers to keep in mind, and many of those dates have changed in the past few weeks.

Key Dates

Here's a rundown of the key dates for people buying insurance in the new Marketplaces:

  • Dec. 23, 2013: Last day to enroll with healthcare.gov and most state-run Marketplaces for coverage to start Jan. 1, 2014.
  • Jan. 1, 2014: Coverage begins for people who enrolled successfully.
  • Jan. 10, 2014: First payment due for policies that took effect Jan. 1.
  • March 31, 2014: Last day to enroll in 2014. Coverage will start in April.
  • Nov. 15, 2014: Next open enrollment period begins.
  • If you have a life-changing event -- such as the birth of a child or losing your job -- you don't have to wait for the enrollment period. You can sign up or change coverage within 60 days of the event.

If you sign up after Dec. 23, 2013, but before March 31, 2014, here's how it works: If you sign up between the 1st and 15th of the month, your insurance will kick in on the first day of the following month. For example, if you enroll on Jan. 10, your insurance will go into effect Feb. 1.

If you enroll between the 16th and end of the month, your insurance will take effect the first day of the second following month. So if you sign up on Jan. 25, your insurance won't take effect until March 1.

Did You Know?

The Affordable Care Act requires that most Americans have health care coverage starting in 2014. People who don't sign up for insurance will face a tax penalty of $95 or 1% of their income, whichever is greater.

About 149.5 million of Americans (48%) are covered by employer health plans, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, and not directly affected by the health reform law. About 31% are covered by some form of public insurance, including Medicaid and Medicare. About 48 million Americans are uninsured.

Since going live Oct. 1, Healthcare.gov has been plagued by computer problems and public confusion. Enrollment has picked up in December, after a series of computer fixes were put in place and the deadline neared. Some state-operated Marketplaces also had significant technical problems. The Obama administration had hoped that between 7 million and 8 million people would enroll by March 31, 2014.

SOURCES: News release, America's Health Insurance Plans. Clare Krusing, deputy press secretary, America's Health Insurance Plans. New York Times: "Extra Time to Sign Up for Health Coverage." Washington Post, Health Care Wonkblog: "A guide to Obamacare's ever-changing deadlines." Kaiser Family Foundation: "Health Insurance Coverage of the Total Population."

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