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Obamacare Open Enrollment Deadline is Here: Are You Ready?

Are you enrolled in a health insurance plan? For those who aren’t aware, today (March 31, 2014) is the deadline to enroll in a health insurance plan under President Obama’s Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare). Let me put this bluntly: If you aren’t enrolled as an individual or through your employer, you’ll receive a […]

Are you enrolled in a health insurance plan?

For those who aren’t aware, today (March 31, 2014) is the deadline to enroll in a health insurance plan under President Obama’s Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare).

Let me put this bluntly:

If you aren’t enrolled as an individual or through your employer, you’ll receive a hefty fine when you do your taxes next year.

Americans who have not enrolled for health insurance through a health insurance exchange (H.I.E.) or directly from a medical provider will be subject to a fine of $95 per adult and $47.50 per child (max of $285 per family) OR 1% of your taxable income, whichever is greater.

With time slipping away before fines are recorded at 12 midnight, the team here at Zweena Health wanted to provide a few quick tips to make sure you’re enrolled.

5 Tips to Sign Up for Health Insurance & Avoid Being Fined

To bring this advice to life, I interviewed my friend Mike here in San Francisco, California, about his experience signing up for health insurance on the exchanges here in California (managed by Covered CA).

Mike is a small business owner whose company does not provide health coverage to their employees but instead pays a cash stipend to their workers, giving them the choice to pocket the money or invest in a exchanged-based health insurance plan.

At the urging of a co-worker, Mike printed and mailed a paper copy of Covered CA’s application on March 9th. Unfortunately, his application was never confirmed and we set out on a mad dash this past Friday, March 28th, to ensure that he was in fact enrolled in the system and would not receive a fine next Spring.

This is our story (dun dun! cue: Law & Order music).

Tip #1: Window Shop Through Health Exchange Websites

First and foremost, you’ll want to walk through your state’s health insurance exchange to compare and contrast different plans; my friend referred to this as ‘window shopping’, or browsing through a website filled with health plans to get an idea for what level of coverage and benefits you’d like to receive.

“Imagine a health insurance exchange like you do an online travel booking website,” Mike said. “Kayak, Orbitz, and Expedia don’t own the hotels or airlines they sell flights for. They simply aggregate all the prices in one easy-to-read view so you can compare schedules, prices, amenities and more.”

The Center for Medicare & Medicaid has a list of each state’s exchange that you can view by clicking here.

As we navigate through a series of health plans (“Do I spring for dental or not?” my friend keeps asking himself), Mike advises using the exchanges to research which plan fits best for your families needs.

Tip #2: How to Receive Support During Sign Up

There are usually phone numbers to dial and email addresses to write to, but Mike’s advice was that there isn’t nearly enough support staff to deal with the onslaught of requests for assistance.

While you want to try as many times as possible, tip #1 is to realize that providers and exchanges can’t answer every single call that comes in. You’ll want to hedge your bets and use every available form of communication to get a hold of these individuals.

While it’s tough for support staff to answer every single phone call, they are able to respond much quicker to requests made via social media, with Twitter giving us the fastest responses time of the bunch.

Tip #3: You Can Buy Directly from Healthcare Providers

Sometimes the exchanges get overloaded with visitors trying to sign up or have technical issues — if you know which plan you’d like to sign up for you can visit the providers website directly to sign up.

Here is a great 3 step guide to sign up for health insurance that describes how to window shop on exchanges and buy direct from providers.

Additionally, make sure to educate yourself on the tax benefits your situation may provide. If you buy directly from a provider, sometimes these tax credits will disappear, so definitely ask / research your available credits prior to making a purchase.

Tip #4: Engage a Health Broker

There are many certified brokers who are free to the end consumer and are compensated by the exchanges for helping facilitate the sign up process.

Try searching for ‘health insurance broker’ on Google or visit the National Association of Health Underwriters (one of many groups like it) to find a certified broker to work with.

Make sure that these individuals are certified: don’t take it at face value, ask to see their credentials (electronically or in person)!

Last but not least, a good insurance broker will be able to answer questions about tax credits, sign up process and confirming enrollment (in many but not all cases).

Tip #5: Confirming Enrollment Terms & Status

The last thing you want to do is jump through all the hoops outlined above and then assume that your application was received.

So how do you confirm it was received and check on it’s status?

In many cases, there are special 800-numbers or websites online (provided by health exchange or provider) that allows you to check on the status of your application.

These phone numbers vary by state, provider and exchange, but my friend Mike was kind enough to share a tweet between himself and @CoveredCA:

Additionally, Mike was able to confirm in the state of California that he simply needed to have the application post marked by the deadline of March 31st.

Again, you’ll want to check with your local state legislation for your own well  being.

In Closing: You Can Do It!

The clock is ticking down, but if you run into any issues don’t hesitate to reference this article or mention us on Twitter at @ZweenaHealth for help.

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