Applying for health insurance over the holiday weekend?

By Nancy MetcalfConsumer Reports

One item on the holiday weekend to-do list at my house is to get my daughter and her boyfriend, both freelance musicians, enrolled in new health plans. They are among the million-plus people whose plans are being discontinued at the end of the year, so they need to get new ones in place by Dec. 23 to ensure continuous coverage starting Jan. 1.

If you have the same item on your list, be aware that in the new world of Obamacare, applying for individual health insurance is nothing like it used to be. It formerly involved a deep dive into your medical history going back years, if not decades. But the new law no longer allows insurance companies to turn you down for pre-existing conditions, so those questions are no longer relevant or asked.

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Instead, applying for health insurance is now pretty much indistinguishable from doing your income taxes. I’m serious: your eligibility for financial help to pay for health insurance depends on your projected household income for 2014, which encompasses the same financial information you report on your annual tax return. (Here’s a cheat sheet we created that shows exactly what goes into the calculation.)

Your tax return comes into play in another way as well. Subsidies are calculated on the basis of how many people are in your “tax filing unit.” For most households, that means everyone who’s on the same tax return. (If you’re a teenager or young adult who makes enough to have to file your own tax return, but are still carried as a dependent on your parent’s tax return, your household is the parental household.)

So leave those old immunization records in the drawer. Instead, dig out these records or information for everyone in your household, whether applying for coverage or not:

  • Most recent income tax return.
  • Recent pay stubs.
  • Social Security number.
  • Recent bank statement or two.
  • If self-employed, at least a rough idea of what you expect to earn in 2014.
  • Information on other income sources, such as alimony, capital gains., investments, pensions, rental properties, Social Security, and unemployment compensation,

Good luck, and happy Thanksgiving.

Got a question for our health insurance expert? Ask it here; be sure to include the state you live in. And if you can't get enough health insurance news here, follow me on Twitter @NancyMetcalf.

Health reform countdown: We are doing an article a day on the new health care law until Jan. 1, 2014, when it takes full effect. (Read the previous posts in the series.) To get health insurance advice tailored to your situation, use our Health Law Helper, below.

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