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This month's big deadline: What you need to know

By Connie Cass

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, March 2 2014 12:00 a.m. MST

If you are insured now and lose your coverage during the year, by getting laid off from your job, for example, you can use an exchange to find a new policy then. People can sign up outside the open enrollment period in special situations such as having a baby or moving to another state.

You can choose to buy insurance outside the marketplaces and still benefit from consumer protections in the law.

People who do that wouldn't normally be eligible for premium subsidies. But the Obama administration says exceptions will be made for people whose attempts to buy marketplace insurance on time were stymied by continuing problems with some enrollment websites.

MILLIONS OF PEOPLE WON'T GET COVERED

Some 12 million people could gain health coverage this year because of the law, if congressional auditors' predictions don't prove overly optimistic.

Even so, tens of millions still would go without.

That's partly because of immigrants in the country illegally; they aren't eligible for marketplace policies.

Some of the uninsured will not find out about the program in time, will find it confusing or too costly, or will just procrastinate too long. Some feel confident of their health and prefer to risk going uninsured instead of paying premiums. Others are philosophically opposed to participating.

Figuring out just how many of the uninsured got coverage this year won't be easy because the numbers are fuzzy.

The administration's enrollment count includes people who already were insured and used the exchanges to find a better deal, or switched from private insurance to Medicaid, or already qualified for Medicaid before the changes.

Some who sign up will end up uninsured anyway, if they fail to pay their premiums.

The budget experts predict enrollment will grow in future years and by 2017 some 92 percent of legal residents too young for Medicare will have insurance.

But even then, about 30 million people in the United States would go uncovered.

SOME ARE LEFT OUT

A gap in the law means some low-income workers can't get help.

The insurance marketplaces weren't designed to serve people whose low incomes qualify them for expanded Medicaid instead. But some states have declined to expand their Medicaid programs. That means that in those states, many poor people will get left out.

People who fall into the gap won't be penalized for failing to get covered.

Some others are exempt from the insurance mandate, too: American Indians, those with religious objections, prisoners, immigrants in the country illegally, and people considered too poor to buy coverage even with financial assistance.

THE IRS IS WATCHING YOU

The law says people who aren't covered in 2014 are liable for a fine. That amounts to $95 per uninsured person or approximately 1 percent of income, whichever is higher. The penalty goes up in later years.

A year from now, the Internal Revenue Service will be asking taxpayers filing their forms for proof of insurance coverage. Insurance companies are supposed to provide that documentation to their customers.

If you owe a penalty for being uninsured, the IRS can withhold it from your refund.

The agency can't put people in jail or garnishee wages to get the money. But it can withhold the penalty from a future year's tax refund.

Follow Connie Cass on Twitter at https://twitter.com/ConnieCass

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