Millions of Americans have signed up for health insurance coverage under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act over the last few years, giving them access to far more reasonably priced treatments when needed. However, many have also likely learned that there is a hard deadline by which they must be enrolled in their plans, and this year, that deadline is Jan. 31.
This deadline is earlier than it has been in years past, now that the various problems with Healthcare.gov seem to have finally been smoothed over, according to a report from Lake Charles, Louisiana, television station KPLC. Health insurance may not always be easy for Americans to afford, simply because they carry low incomes in the first place, but experts generally caution that the alternative - that is, going without coverage and hoping no health emergencies arise - can often leave them exposed to the risk of racking up medical bills in the tens of thousands of dollars.
Why signing up is a good idea
In addition to avoiding the risk of huge debts in the event of an emergency, it's probably also wise for consumers to get health insurance because it will significantly increase the chances that they tap health care for preventative reasons. Studies routinely show that people without health insurance do not generally get routine checkups, and only go to the doctor or emergency room when what started as a minor health problem has gotten a lot worse. This helps to keep people less healthy, and puts them at greater risk for being hit with those aforementioned big bills, as well.
Further, those who do not sign up for coverage on Healthcare.gov or receive it in some other way, such as through an employer, will be subject to fines that have been increasing for some time now, the report said. This year, the penalty for someone going without health insurance coverage is up to $695 for each uncovered adult, and half of that for each child. Those fines are capped at either 2.5 percent of the household's income, or $2,085, whichever is greater.
What else to keep in mind
These requirements, and the massive fines that come with not meeting them, mean that consumers should do all they can to get onto the state or federal exchange sites available to them and look into the kind of coverage that's going to work best for them based on data such as where they live, their age, and how much they make each year. Consumers should also remember that even if they were signed up for all of 2015, that does not guarantee them coverage for the coming year. Along similar lines, people's insurance needs may have changed in the last year, so even those whose policies are rolling over automatically might want to review their options.
Health insurers should try to reach out and remind many Americans of these issues in the final few weeks of January, to make sure they're in good enough shape to handle the requirements set by the federal government going forward.