March 31 has now passed, and that means that the millions of Americans who signed up for the federal or state-run health insurance exchanges before that date were able to successfully avoid facing a fine for going without. However, those who are still not covered may be able to find other ways to sign up and sidestep the added cost in a number of ways.
Perhaps chief among these is that the White House recently built in a grace period for people who had tried to enroll in the exchanges but not yet signed up for a specific plan, due to ongoing problems with the Healthcare.gov website that buckled once again under the tremendous strain of hundreds of thousands of visitors, according to a report from the Associated Press. Those people will have until April 15 to sign up, while people who are still trying to apply with physical applications have until April 7. Moreover, Americans living in one of the 14 states that are running their own exchanges may face different rules, which would need to be researched on an individual basis.
In addition, the federal government also allows special enrollment windows for consumers based on very specific situations for which they might qualify, the report said. For example, if they have been impacted by natural disasters, domestic abuse, or serious illness, that could be grounds for a delayed signup. So, too, could errors by counselors who helped them fill out their applications, or the insurance companies with which they tried to enroll. For these people, they will have to call a special hotline for either their federal or state exchange and seek approval. If granted, they'll have another 60 days to get involved.
What else can they do?
Many consumers may simply have to wait until the next open enrollment period, which begins in November, if they want to sign up through the federal or state government exchanges, the report said. On the other hand, those who don't want to wait may be able to sign up through a private insurer instead, as a means of keeping their penalties for missing the deadline minimal. Some might also meet the qualifications to sign up for Medicaid in certain instances.
Health insurers may need to keep in mind that some consumers could come to them later in the year looking for coverage, and in those cases, being able to offer a range of affordable coverage may help to increase client bases.