Deadline to buy health insurance and avoid penalty is Sunday, Jan. 31; a relative few people may qualify for exemptions

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

Kentuckians have until Jan. 31 to sign up for subsidized health insurance through Kynect, the state’s online insurance marketplace, or face a penalty when they file their tax returns.

The penalty for not having health insurance this year is 2.5 percent of your income, or $695 per adult and $347 per child, with a maximum of $2,085 per family, whichever is higher. The penalty will either be taken from a future tax refund or imposed when individuals file their taxes, according to the Kynect website.

The 2010 federal health-reform law requires most people to have health insurance, either through Medicaid, Medicare, veterans’ coverage, the Kentucky Children’s Health Insurance Program, job-based coverage or private insurance.

A few circumstances allow for exemptions, including: certain hardships, membership in some groups, some life-changing events, incarceration, if health coverage is considered unaffordable, or if household income is below the threshold for filing a tax return, according to Healthcare.gov. For more information on exemptions, go to www.IRS.gov/aca or www.healthcare.gov/exemptions-tool.

For help getting coverage, either call 1-855-459-6328, visit Kynect’s website at kynect.ky.gov or visit one of its two locations at Mall St. Mathews in Louisville or Fayette Mall in Lexington. Kynectors, trained assisters who help people choose and sign up for plans, are also available in every county.

The federal government has said the deadline will not be extended this year, unlike last year. Enrollments or changes made on existing plans between Jan. 16 and 31 will take effect March 1.

After Jan. 31, the only way to purchase health insurance on Kynect will be if there’s a major life event, like marriage or a change of employment. Those who qualify for Medicaid can apply year round.

Gov. Matt Bevin notified federal officials Dec. 30 that Kentucky plans to shut down Kynect, which he says is redundant because there is a federal exchange. This does not immediately affect Kynect, which will remain open and will keep accepting enrollments until Jan. 31.

This follows the shutdown of all advertising for Kynect, which was cancelled during the middle of open enrollment, although Anthem is still running ads that remind people of the requirement to have coverage. A few Kynect ads are still running because the contracts involved, such as those for certain sports broadcasts, did not allow cancellation.

One group that might need reminders about the requirement and this year’s higher penalty are Kentucky’s so-called “young invincibles,” many of whom choose to forgo health insurance and pay the penalty because they are young and healthy.

For Obamacare insurance plans to be viable, they need young, healthy people to enroll and pool the risk with older, sicker policyholders whose health care cost will likely exceed their premiums. Humana Inc. said recently that it will pay more in claims by Obamacare policyholders than it will get from them in premiums.

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