In what may have been the most popular website launch this decade, healthcare.gov received 14.6 million unique visitors within the first 11 days of its unveiling. The idea of affordable health care had uninsured groups such as women of color, women in poverty, unemployed women and other individuals rushing to the site. The flood of users has caused some glitches and crashes, and the government is working to quickly get it fixed. But that doesn’t mean you can’t begin exploring your options or enrolling in a health plan.
In addition to the website, there are three other ways to get information and sign up: phone, mail, and in person. These four options are often referred to as the marketplace, and they all offer the same services. No matter what method you use though, you will need a W2 form, your social security card and other documents related to your income in order to complete the enrollment process.
- PHONE: To sign up over the phone, call 1-800-318-2596. You will speak with a representative who will review your options and help you compare plans. The representative will be able to walk you through the enrollment process from start to finish.
- MAIL: Signing up via the mail is also an option, but you will still need to call 1-800-318-2596 first. Request information be mailed to you from the representative. Once you’ve received the information, you can review plans and mail the forms back in for completion.
- IN PERSON: Qualified health care agencies have “navigators” to help assist you in the enrollment process. Not all agencies have navigators, though, so you need to make sure you visit an eligible agency. (Visit https://localhelp.healthcare.gov/ to find an agency near you with a navigator). The navigators are trained to help you through the process of signing up for coverage under the new health care law.
- WEBSITE: Visit www.healthcare.gov for more information or answers to your questions. You can also sign up online, but there have been some recent outages due to high traffic.
Let’s face it, no matter how healthy you are, accidents and illnesses happen. An unexpected trip to the hospital or doctor’s office can often result in bills and debt. Health insurance helps cover and alleviate those fees.
As part of the Affordable Care Act (also know as the ACA or "Obamacare"), all U.S. citizens are required to have health insurance. You can shop for and compare plans through the marketplace, which will show you the most affordable, private coverage options. In addition to comparing plans, you will also be able to determine if you're eligible for any government subsidies to help you pay for insurance, and you may even find that you qualify for free healthcare coverage.
The enrollment period began Oct. 1, 2014 and will remain open until March 31, 2014. If you can afford insurance but do not purchase it, you will be required to pay a fee. The fee is known as the “individual shared responsibility fee.” In order for health insurance to work, everyone must pay in. Otherwise, coverage funds would gradually be depleted.
On the other hand, if you already have coverage (Medicaid/Medicare/COBRA/private plans), you do not need to purchase new insurance. Should you lose your current coverage, though, new plans can be found through the marketplace. And anyone with a pre-existing condition doesn’t need to worry about qualifying. Under the new law, insurance companies are not able to deny people with pre-existing conditions. The law also eliminates life-time and annual benefit limits.
The ACA also forbids insurance companies from discriminating against you because of your gender. All marketplace insurance plans must cover essential benefits, including emergency services, hospitalizations, maternity and newborn care, behavioral healthcare, prescriptions, rehab and preventive care.
When shopping, it's nice to have options, and the marketplace does just that. So whether you call, click or drive, begin exploring your healthcare options today.
If you live in the Pittsburgh, Penn., area and you'd like to get more information in person, the nonprofit organizations New Voices Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania Health Access Network (PHAN) are hosting a community forum on the ACA on Thursday, November 21, 2013, at the YWCA Homewood-Brushton location, starting at 6:30 pm. Click here to learn more about this event.