Obamacare enrollment deadline is here despite uncertainty over future

Obamacare enrollment deadline (6a)

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - While there's a lot of uncertainty about the future of Obamacare, Tuesday marks the last day to enroll for coverage for 2017. Across the board, experts say if consumers don't have health insurance yet, they need to sign up before the end of the day.

Anyone who signs up before the deadline expires Tuesday night is guaranteed insurance for the rest of the year, along with their tax subsidies. Their coverage will begin on March 1. 

Healthcare.gov has all the information needed to walk consumers through enrollment, and there are subsidies offered by the government. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, about 85 percent of participants qualify for help paying for their coverage.

Health officials say it's riskier to not enroll than it is to go through the process.

For one, the individual mandate provision of the law means consumers could be hit with a tax around $700 per adult. But another potentially even more costly consequence has to do with the law's "continuous coverage" element. Simply put, it means those who have a lapse in their insurance coverage because they forgot or chose not to sign up this year, then insurers could legally be allowed to discriminate against them for a pre-existing condition, and that means they could charge them significantly more for coverage or outright deny them care.

An estimated 20 million newly insured Americans rely on Obamacare for coverage. Even with its future unclear, approximately 11.5 million people signed up just last month nationwide. In Hawaii, officials say more than 17,000 have enrolled since January 10th.

But in terms of overall impact, experts say the ACA has helped the more than 150 million Americans who already had insurance through their workplaces because under the law they cannot be denied coverage for pre-existing conditions, they are protected from lifetime limits on care, they cannot be charged more because of their gender, and their children can now stay on their policies until they turn 26.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that a repeal of Obamacare would lead to 18 million uninsured Americans in the first year alone and more than 32 million over the next decade.

Republicans have vowed their top priority is to repeal and replace Obamacare. While they have no formulated plan, they have consistently complained it is too expensive and not effective enough.

Hawaii News Now reached out to the Hawaii Insurance Commissioner to request an interview to address some of the top questions for further clarification -- including whether people should be taking measures to secure their own health insurance coverage outside of the ACA. However, late Monday afternoon, officials said they could not answer the questions because they were not prepared -- in part because of the uncertainty about Obamacare's future.

The application process takes about half an hour if prepared with an estimate of health care expenses, income, taxes and projected health care needs for the year.

Anyone who needs help in person or locally, federal officials recommend contacting the Legal Aid Society of Hawaii at (808) 536-4302 (MAIN) or by clicking here.

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