Health coverage sign up deadline, but open enrollment thru March 31

5 insurance companies ok’d for Fort Bend

By Elsa Maxey

There’s a certain degree of misunderstanding about deadlines and what’s in store relating to the new health care law, the Affordable Care Act.  Here’s an important deadline – there is a requirement to have health insurance in 2014 or face a fine.  Arrangements must be made for coverage with an employer or with private companies for purchasing health insurance.  This includes buying it by signing up on a federal website.

Critics have said that the deadlines in the ObamaCare enrollment process have been a moving target and that has partly been the cause of the confusion. What affects us locally is that Texas is serviced by the federal enrollment website, HealthCare.gov.

By going on this website, a health insurance policy may be selected and purchased for coverage in 2014.  But in order to have coverage begin, this needs to be done by the end of the day on Monday, January 1 followed by a payment. As is the case with any insurance plan, enrollees have to pay the first month’s premium to begin coverage.

Take note, however, that potential enrollees still have until the end of March to get insurance.  After that time, the federal government will fine those without coverage.

So putting it simply, Monday is the deadline for residents to sign up for ObamaCare if they want coverage starting January 1. The deadline to enroll in coverage to avoid a fine is March 31. That’s the date that the program’s open enrollment period officially ends. Another reported deadline, October 15th, is when enrollment will reopen.

In Fort Bend, according to Carolyn Edwards, CEO of Access Health in Richmond, there are only five health insurance companies with approved plans offering the essential benefits of the national health law. They are Humana, Aetna, Signa, Blue Cross Blue Shield, and Community Health Choice.  Plans that do not have the essential benefits set forth by the Affordable Health Act cannot participate in the health marketplace.

Edwards said people can continue to keep employer plans but the plans have to meet the essential benefits.  Those reportedly loosing the plans are doing so because the health plans not have the benefits required by the federal health law.

Access Health is a federally qualified community health center providing services at a reduced cost.  It operates with a $15 million budget with funds from the federal government, state health department, United Way, insurance company billings and sliding fee scale charges.

Edwards says Access Health can help answer questions from anyone about health insurance coverage and will also assist with the electronic or other walk-through process. Its hotline is 281-633-3175, and the agency has a live person on the phone unless staff is tied up helping others. Persons leaving messages with contact information will be called back, said Edwards.

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