Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Deadline for Aca Sign-Up Nearing Program Here Focuses on Students

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Deadline for Aca Sign-Up Nearing Program Here Focuses on Students

Article excerpt

This time of year, college students' thoughts turn to spring break or maybe March Madness basketball.

Bill England hopes to push health insurance into the mix.

The March 31 deadline for the uninsured to enroll in one of the Affordable Care Act's marketplace health plans is two weeks away, and it is Mr. England's goal to add on to the near-160,000 Pennsylvanians who have enrolled in a health plan so far.

"We're making good headway in terms of education, but we still know that 80 percent still don't understand there is assistance for the program," said Mr. England, Pennsylvania's state director for Enroll America, the nonprofit organization that has been encouraging the uninsured to sign up for a plan.

So far, he said, about 70 percent of those enrolling have been eligible for some level of subsidy and half are finding coverage for less than $100 a month.

But with the deadline fast approaching, it is the penalties for not enrolling -- not the subsidies -- that may draw the most attention.

Uninsured individuals who do not have coverage after March 31 face a tax penalty of either $95 per uninsured person or 1 percent of taxable income, whichever is greater. Waivers have been extended to those who have had their previous health plans cancelled and those who can show they cannot afford to purchase coverage.

The "whichever is greater" clause is often overlooked but, according to a report by NPR, the penalties for higher-income individuals could top out at about $3,600 per person annually. Those penalties will grow in subsequent years.

Those who miss the deadline will have to wait for the next enrollment period, beginning Dec. 15, although there are exceptions made for "major life changes" such as a birth in the family, the loss of a job or a divorce.

To date, the majority of enrollees in Pennsylvania have been in the 35 to 60 year old age group, Mr. England said, while 28 percent are 19 to 34 years old. Nationally, lagging numbers of younger enrollees has caused both concern and criticism. The participation of this youthful and healthy group is needed to offset the cost of caring for the older and less healthy. …

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