Washington has become the first state to extend the enrollment deadline for health insurance, allowing uninsured people to get healthcare coverage through tax season.
Washington Healthplanfinder has opened a spring special enrollment period, making April 17th the new deadline. New and renewing customers who qualify for the Spring 2015 Special Enrollment Period include individuals who were unaware of the penalties for not having insurance, as well as those who experienced technical problems or other barriers that prevented enrollment.
This is the first year residents who are filing tax returns may discover they incurred a penalty through the IRS for not having health insurance for more than three consecutive months in 2014. Under the Affordable Care Act, the fee for not having coverage in 2014 is $95 a person or 1% of annual income, whichever is higher. The fee for not having coverage in 2015 will be $325 per person or 2% of annual income.
As of February 16th the Exchange reported that 160,000 people signed up for quality health plans, which was 50,000 below their target enrollment goal. Current enrollees include 66,000 new customers and about 94,000 people who renewed coverage. Richard Onizuka, CEO of Washington Health Benefit Exchange, acknowledged that the deadline extension will likely help get the exchange closer to its target enrollment, but said that isn’t the primary goal.
The extension doesn’t just ensure more people are getting coverage; it also protects the stability of the Exchange, which relies on a 2% premium tax for some of its operating costs. So enrollment matters. The Exchange has been relying on the enrollment of 213,000 people in quality health plans to meet their 2015 budget goals. If they remain below their target enrollment, it will cost the state $10 million that would have to be made up by the Legislature.
News of the enrollment extension should still be considered a major plus for Washington residents. While our ultimate goal is affordable, quality care for all, it’s clear that increased access to coverage contributes to increased access to care. With an extended enrollment deadline, more people may gain access to coverage, which means more people will be able to receive the preventive services and other medical care that will allow them to thrive and contribute to their families and communities.
By Janna Higgins, Graduate Policy Intern