More peo­ple en­roll in Oba­macare

About 18,000 Cal­i­for­ni­ans use the ex­tended dead­line to avoid tax penalty.

Los Angeles Times - - BUSINESS - By Chad Ter­hune chad.ter­hune@la­times.com

Cal­i­for­nia of­fi­cials said about 18,000 peo­ple have taken ad­van­tage of an ex­tended Oba­macare en­roll­ment pe­riod that was cre­ated as a fi­nal op­por­tu­nity to es­cape the health law’s tax penal­ties.

The spe­cial en­roll­ment win­dow runs un­til April 30 for peo­ple who con­tend that they were un­aware of the Af­ford­able Care Act’s fi­nan­cial penal­ties for be­ing unin­sured.

Peter Lee, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of the Cov­ered Cal­i­for­nia ex­change, said Tues­day that since Feb. 23 more than 18,000 peo­ple have signed up for a pri­vate health plan and cited that rea­son for en­rolling dur­ing the ex­tended pe­riod.

Nor­mally, ob­tain­ing a pol­icy out­side regular open en­roll­ment, which closed Feb. 20, is re­served for peo­ple who ex­pe­ri­ence a qual­i­fy­ing event such as di­vorce, hav­ing a child or los­ing em­ployer cov­er­age. That type of spe­cial en­roll­ment is avail­able year­round.

Over­all, 1.4 mil­lion Cal­i­for­ni­ans get their health cov­er­age through the state mar­ket­place.

Unin­sured peo­ple can’t avoid a health-law penalty for lack­ing cov­er­age in 2014. But there’s still time to do some­thing for the 2015 tax year.

“It’s not too late to avoid a penalty for 2015,” Lee said. “2014 is wa­ter un­der the bridge. You can’t af­fect that.”

Lee said the ex­change is work­ing with tax pre­par­ers and other gov­ern­ment agen­cies to help en­sure that peo­ple aren’t sur­prised by the fed­eral penal­ties.

An in­di­vid­ual mak­ing $40,000 who can af­ford cov­er­age would face a tax penalty of about $600 for be­ing unin­sured in 2015, Lee said.

A fam­ily of four with a house­hold in­come of $70,000 might have to pay nearly $1,000 to Un­cle Sam for lack­ing health cov­er­age this year, ac­cord­ing to the state.

“Some peo­ple are just now dis­cov­er­ing that be­ing unin­sured can be an ex­pen­sive propo­si­tion,” Lee said. “We don’t want there to be any sur­prises.”

Con­sumers can seek an ex­emp­tion from the fed­eral man­date to buy health in­sur­ance. Grounds for get­ting ex­emp­tions in­clude fi­nan­cial hard­ship and re­li­gious rea­sons.

For the 2014 tax year, the penalty for be­ing unin­sured is $95 per adult or 1% of mod­i­fied ad­justed gross in­come, whichever is greater.

Those penal­ties are in­creas­ing for fu­ture tax years. For 2015, they rise to $325 per adult or 2% of in­come, whichever is higher.

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