2018 MIDTERM ELECTION

Time: D H M S

In which Washington State effectively extends their enrollment period by another 2 months

Tami Luhby of CNNMoney deserves a shout-out for hunting down this notice from the Washington HealthPlanFinder (it's not officially posted publicly on their website yet that I can tell):

This is the first year residents who are filing their 2014 federal taxes may incur a penalty through the IRS on their tax return if they failed to have health insurance for more than three consecutive months in 2014. Given that some residents may become aware of the penalty for the first time this year, Washington Healthplanfinder will open a Special Enrollment Period for these individuals so they can get coverage and avoid the penalty for not having coverage in 2015. These individuals as well as those who were unable to meet the Feb. 15 deadline can apply for the Spring 2015 Special Enrollment Period.

New and renewing customers who qualify for the Spring 2015 Special Enrollment Period include individuals who misunderstood the penalties for not having insurance, as well as those who experienced barriers to enrollment and renewal due to system delays, technical defects in Healthplanfinder, and unclear instructions regarding the necessary steps for 2015 enrollment.

The Spring 2015 Special Enrollment Period starts February 17 and will end on April 17, 2015. The deadline to apply for coverage during this Spring Period is 4:59 p.m. on April 17. Consumers must select and pay for their Qualified Health Plan by 11:59 p.m. on April 17 to secure their 2015 coverage.

Key dates and deadlines for the Qualified Health Plan Spring 2015 Special Enrollment Period:

  • February 17, 2015 Start date for Spring 2015 Special Enrollment
  • 4:59 p.m. Monday, Feb. 23 Payment deadline for coverage effective March 1
  • 4:59 p.m. Monday, March 23 Deadline to enroll and avoid the penalty for not having coverage in 2015; Payment deadline for coverage effective April 1
  • 4:59 p.m. Friday, April 17 Deadline to request Spring 2015 Special Enrollment
  • 11:59 p.m. Friday, April 17 Payment deadline for coverage effective May 1
  • Please note that all ongoing payments are due by 4:59 p.m. the 23rd of the month prior to coverage.

At first glance, this may seem like it's a way of avoiding the 2014 tax penalty ($95/person or 1% of your household income). However, that's not what this is about; this is just providing extra time to make sure you don't have to pay the higher penalty ($325/person or 2% of your income) for 2015 when you do NEXT year's taxes.

The time window is also quite noteworthy: It starts tomorrow (2/17) and extends all the way through April 17th...which effectively means that Washington State has just bumped out their enrollment period by an additional 2 months.

This is really the only part that surprises me; I figured that some/all of the exchanges would go with a 2-week stint from 4/1 - 4/15 or whatever. I didn't expect them to flip the switch back on again just 2 days later.

On the one hand, technically speaking, this isn't "open" enrollment. You'll have to jump through a hoop or two, and you're supposed to only qualify if you "misunderstood the penalty" (which I find ludicrious after 5 friggin' years of screaming about the individual mandate being "Tyrrrrrany of our Libbbbertieeees!!!", etc etc), or if you had technical problems (which is completely understandable).

HOWEVER, in practice, the actual procedure for this seems to be pretty much on the honor system:

While filing my 2014 federal taxes, I realized that I need to have health insurance coverage to avoid paying a tax penalty. Can I still get coverage for 2015 and avoid the penalty for this next year?

Avoiding the tax penalty requires consumers to not have a gap in coverage greater than three months. If you don’t want to pay the penalty for not having health insurance during 2015, you will need to apply and pay for coverage before 4:59 p.m. on March 23 for coverage effective April 1.

Please visit www.wahealthplanfinder.org and complete an application for free or low-cost health coverage. If you are eligible for Qualified Health Plan coverage, you will get a screen that tells you that Qualified Health Plan Open Enrollment is closed. Click “See if you Qualify” and if none of the special conditions apply to you, select “yes” to you “have had another recent change."

After completing these steps, contact Washington Healthplanfinder Customer Support at 1-855-923- 4633 Monday – Friday 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. and let a representative know that you would like to enroll in coverage between Feb. 17 and April 17. You must make your request for Spring 2015 Special Enrollment by 4:59 p.m. on April 17 for coverage effective May 1, 2015.

They also note that if you tried to enroll and got hosed by tech issues, you're OK:

I was unable to complete my application and pay for my coverage prior to the February 15 deadline due to technical problems or other issues preventing me from completing enrollment. Can I still get coverage?

Please call Washington Healthplanfinder Customer Support at 1-855-923-4633 Monday – Friday 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. and let a representative know that you would like to enroll in coverage between Feb. 17 and April 17. You must make your request for Spring 2015 Special Enrollment by 4:59 p.m. on April 17 for coverage effective May 1, 2015.

We will also notify and provide directions to customers who have an application that is stuck due to a technical error and will continue to resolve the errors that occurred before the February 15 deadline. While Healthplanfinder will contact affected customers directly, customers can also call 1-855-923-4633 or email customersupport@wahbexchange.org to report their situation.

I want to stress that I'm not criticizing the WA HealthPlan Finder for what they're doing; I just find it kind of amusing that after all the hand-wringing over whether/how to go about "re-opening" the enrollment period, the solution is simply:

  • 1. Visit the website.
  • 2. Click "I didn't have a clue."
  • 3. Call us and we'll square you away.