Tuesday, December 1 , 2015, 1:19 pm | Fair 68º

Bob Hopper: Simple Action Plan for Getting Health Insurance Before March 31 Deadline

By Bob Hopper |

If you’ve waited until the last moment to get health insurance, now is the time for action.

The initial open enrollment period for individuals and families to buy health insurance started Oct. 1, 2013, and will end on March 31. If you don’t secure insurance by March 31, your next opportunity will only be during annual open enrollment from Nov. 15, 2014, to Jan. 15, 2015.

Be warned: If you’re thinking, “I’ll just wait until the end of the year,” there are financial penalties. In 2014, the penalty is $95 for each adult and $47.50 for each child (with a maximum of $285 per family) or 1 percent of family income, whichever is greater. The penalty is slated to increase in 2015 and again in 2016 to reach a maximum of $2,085 per family or 2.5 percent of family income, whichever is greater. After 2016, penalty amounts will increase annually according to the cost of living.

I know, it seems the least expensive thing to do is simply to pay the penalty, at least in 2014. But, having no health insurance is a huge risk for you and your family. I do not recommend this strategy. It only takes one illness or accident to deplete your life savings.

If past experience is a good indicator of future results, we can expect that the new insurance exchange, Covered California, will really slow down and have problems dealing with the thousands of Americans rushing to get health insurance before March 31.

Thus, if you want health insurance coverage, you will benefit by applying now — as in today!

Simple Three-Step Action Plan

Step 1: Determine if you qualify for a subsidy.

subsidy chart

Step 2: Choose how you will get your coverage.

» Eligible for subsidy — Must apply through CoveredCA to obtain subsidy

» Not eligible for subsidy — Apply directly to insurance company (see secret tip in Step 3)

» Eligible for Medi-Cal — Apply for Medi-Cal at 805.681.4401 (234 Camino Del Remedio in Santa Barbara)

Step 3: The Secret — Work with an agent.

It’s always in your best interest to work with an insurance agent. Insurance companies pay agents to provide ongoing personalized service to policy holders, meaning there is no cost to you to have an agent on your side. Simply put, working with an agent can make the initial enrollment and annual renewal process easier and more simple for you. In less than one hour, an agent can educate you on the new health plans, choose the best plan that meets your needs and complete the enrollment process.

When you apply online without an agent, you will have to rely on an 800 number, with the all too frequent long wait times on hold, to get service in the future. Were you to call today, the waiting time might be one to two hours. I’m sure this will get better in the future as the new exchange system gets better at handling thousands of phone calls, but if you have a local agent, you can simply call him or her to get answers to your questions — quickly.

If you don’t have an agent, log onto NAHU.org, the website for the National Association of Health Underwriters, and type in your ZIP code to view local agents who adhere to the highest levels of service.

Bob Hopper of Bob Hopper Insurance Services in Santa Barbara is the author of The HSA Strategy: The Future of Health Insurance in America.

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