What You Need to Know About Next Week’s Obamacare Deadline

December 15 (as in next Monday) is the last day to enroll in health care coverage that begins on January 1, 2015, through the federal health care marketplace. Though Affordable Care Act open enrollment lasts until February 15, enrolling after December 15 means part of 2015 will be spent without coverage – which may carry a hefty fine.

Starting in 2015, the fine for not having health insurance is the higher of $325 per adult and $162.50 per child or 2 percent of household income. It’s going to increase even more in 2016. If you are without health insurance for fewer than three months of the year the fine won’t apply, but after that you are fined for the share of the year spent uninsured.

There’s an important exception to the penalty for not having health insurance: people in the Medicaid coverage gap. Because of Rick Perry’s refusal to expand Medicaid, over 1 million Texans are left without coverage – they make too much to qualify for Medicaid, but too little to qualify for subsidies to help bring down the cost of plans in the marketplace. People who earn less than $16,105 annually or have a household income for a family of four that is less than $32,913, and who have been deemed ineligible for both health insurance tax credits and Medicaid, will not be fined.

It’s also possible that hardship exemptions will be granted to people who are homeless, have been evicted, have filed for bankruptcy, are victims of domestic violence or fall into a few other categories. But for most people, it’s going to be expensive to not have health insurance. And that’s on top of paying for all health care costs out of pocket.

December 15 is also the last day to select a new plan for 2015 for those who already enrolled in 2014. Everyone who has not actively re-enrolled by December 15 will be automatically re-enrolled in his or her current plan.

It’s already shaping up to be a strong open enrollment season. In the first two weeks of open enrollment, which began on November 15, over 760,000 people selected health care plans. Almost half were new customers, and the rest were renewing 2014 policies. So that means that in two weeks alone, over 350,000 people gained health insurance coverage. Compare this to the first month of open enrollment last year, when only 106,000 people selected plans.

This success is why far more people now want to fix Obamacare than repeal it. Over half of Americans think that Congress should improve upon it, while now only 30 percent want the law eliminated. Thirteen percent want to keep it as is. Like it or not, the law is working. And now is the time to take advantage of it.

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