The end of the open enrollment period on March 31 marks a first in the rollout of the new health care law. After March, consumers no longer will be able to buy health insurance in 2014 that meets the new government standards of the Affordable Care Act.
This means that qualified plans, like those sold by big-name carriers in the region such as Anthem Blue Cross/Blue Shield and Rocky Mountain Health Plans, will not be available after March 31, and anyone who doesn’t have coverage in place will have to pay a penalty on their 2014 taxes.
Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association
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March 15: Deadline to apply for insurance starting April 1
March 31: End of open enrollment for 2014 insurance, deadline for applying for insurance for coverage in 2014
Nov. 15: Proposed open enrollment begins for 2015 Health Insurance
Dec. 15: Deadline for Jan. 1, 2015, insurance
Jan. 1: 2015 Connect for Health Colorado Insurance coverage begins
Jan. 15: End of proposed open enrollment for 2015
Connect for Health Colorado assistance sites in Routt County
For help getting started, call your health insurance broker or one of the Connect for Health Colorado assistance sites:
• Routt County Department of Human Services: 970-870-5271
• Yampa Valley Medical Center: 970-879-1322
• Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association: 970-871-7638
Life-change events that qualify you for coverage after March:
• Losing your current insurance plan
• Employer-sponsored coverage becomes unaffordable
• Gaining citizenship or immigration status
• Change in incarceration status
• Moving to Colorado
• A customer demonstrates that their health plan substantially has violated a provision of its contract
“Everyone knows about the tax penalty if you don’t have insurance, or asks questions about it,” said Helen Brown, financial counselor with Yampa Valley Medical Center and certified navigator for the state’s health insurance marketplace, Connect for Health Colorado.
As for the part of the law that makes insurance unavailable after the end of March, Brown said it’s not completely clear to most people.
“We continue to educate the community about what the law means for each individual," she said.
With the clock ticking, Brown encourages consumers to get started early.
“Don’t wait until the last week, because it makes it more difficult to do the application,” she said, citing long wait times and difficulty in scheduling an appointment.
Greg Neal, of Western Slope Health Insurance in Craig, like many health insurance brokers, worries that his clients will think insurance still works like it did last year, before the state marketplace opened.
“A lot of people are confused and believe they will have access to insurance after March 31, but the reality is that insurance will only be available in very special circumstances," he said.
The circumstances that would allow someone to buy insurance after March usually are major life events, such as gaining citizenship or moving to Colorado. There still will be some insurance available from non-qualified plans, but these plans may be more expensive and offer fewer benefits, and consumers still will have to pay the penalty.
“Insurance works so differently than what people were able to buy before” Neal said. “Don’t be intimidated by the process. Get in touch with a broker or an assistance site to get informed on the new policies.”
Otherwise, some people may miss out on coverage for 2014.
Erin Gleason is the community and small business health insurance coordinator for the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association.