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Health care law deadline looms

Monday is final day to enroll for insurance plans or face possible penalty

POSTED: March 28, 2014 11:21 p.m.

James Smith’s family is struggling to make ends meet, so paying for any kind of health coverage — at this point — is tough.

Three of his children are on WellCare, which serves families eligible for Medicaid and PeachCare for Kids. And he’s seeking Peachcare, a low-cost plan for Georgia’s uninsured children, for the other two.

“As long as they have health care, that’s all that matters for me,” he said. “I would rather be docked at tax time.”

Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, Americans must enroll in a health insurance plan by Monday or face a possible penalty on their 2015 tax return. However, President Barack Obama’s administration announced this week Americans could complete enrollment after Monday as long as they declare that they started the process before the deadline.

The law’s individual mandate has been one of the most hotly contested parts of Obama’s signature legislation, surviving a constitutional challenge in the Supreme Court.

Under the law, those who don’t have insurance face “fees” of 1 percent of yearly income or $95, whichever is higher, to be imposed through federal taxes.

The fee rises each year; by 2016, the penalty is 2.5 percent of income or $695 per person, whichever is higher.

IRS involvement has only fueled criticism of the law, already derided by some critics as moving the U.S. closer to a single-payer system in which the government, rather than private insurers, pays for all health care costs.

Many Americans can meet the law’s requirement by keeping or getting insurance through their work; Medicare, a federal health program that pays for some of the medical and hospital expenses of people older than 65 using Social Security money; and Medicaid, a public health program funded by the U.S. and state governments for people who meet low-income guidelines.

Starting Oct. 1, they could go through the federal government’s website, healthcare.gov, for coverage.

If they do, tax credits are available for anyone whose income is between 1 and 4 times the federal poverty level and if the amount of the insurance premium exceeds 9.5 percent of their income. Insurance policy amounts vary according to various factors, including age and size of household.

The website experienced serious issues early on, with users having trouble logging on, let alone applying. But the government announced earlier this month it had reached a milestone with 6 million Americans signing up for plans.

As is common with other insurance plans, Americans can sign up through the government’s “marketplace” past Monday if they have a “qualifying life event,” such as marriage, divorce, birth or adoption of a child, or job loss.

The next open enrollment period starts Nov. 15 for health insurance coverage starting Jan. 1.

But as for Smith, he still might not be interested, as he also opposes the insurance requirement on principle.

“I feel as if Obama is using this reform to make his mark in history,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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