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Coverage countdown: Deadline to sign up for health insurance is Monday

Published: 12:12 pm CDT, March 28, 2014

There are only a few days left to sign up for health insurance coverage for 2014 through the Health Insurance Marketplace.

March 31 is the deadline for most uninsured individuals to sign up to buy insurance. People who start applications before the deadline but aren’t able to complete the enrollment process by the deadline will still be able to get coverage.

Those who don’t start enrolling before March 31 will have to pay a penalty on their 2014 federal income tax.  The annual fine is 1 percent of annual income or $95 per person in the household, whichever is higher. The payment for uninsured children under 18 is $47.50 per child. The maximum payment for families is $285. These fees will be higher each year that people go without coverage.

The deadline does not apply to people who are eligible for Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program or small business owners, all of whom can purchase coverage year-round. Small businesses aren’t required to purchase insurance for employees, but may find more affordable options through the Health Insurance Marketplace.

If you lose your job, get married or divorced, have a baby or otherwise lose insurance coverage after March 31, you may be able to buy coverage during special enrollment periods.  Individuals in these circumstances should check with their state’s Marketplace to see if they qualify for  special enrollment.

Some individuals still uninsured after March 31 may be able to get an exemption so they don’t have to pay a fine, or may be able to purchase less expensive catastrophic coverage that covers very high medical bills. People with very low income or who can’t find affordable coverage may be exempt from the penalty.

There are additional hardship exemptions, including being uninsured for three months or less, declaring bankruptcy within six months, being unable to pay healthcare bills for the last two years or homelessness.

Certain groups, including religious sects with objections to health insurance or members of organized American Indian tribes, also are exempt.

Depending on the category you fall into, exemptions can be filed on the 2014 federal income tax return or via the Marketplace website.

Health insurance coverage starts May 1 for those who meet the March 31 deadline. The next open enrollment period for anyone needing insurance will start Nov. 15 for coverage beginning in January 2015.

The Health Insurance Marketplace was set up as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which became law in 2010.  The law aims to make healthcare coverage more available, affordable and adequate.

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