What are the key dates for buying health insurance in the new marketplaces?

By Nancy MetcalfConsumer Reports

The most important date has already come and gone: Oct. 1, 2013. That's when open enrollment inn the new state Health Insurance Marketplaces started.

March 31, 2014 is also important: That's when open enrollment period ends. So if you don’t have health insurance now, you you can’t get insurance again until open enrollment starts in October, 2014, with coverage to start on Jan. 1, 2015.

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There are two other key dates, if you awant to get insurance and/or avoid a penalty for not having it. Write them down: Dec. 15, 2013, and Feb. 15, 2014.

Why Dec. 15, 2013? That's the date when you must enroll in a health plan, and arrage for the first premium payment, if you need insurance to start by Jan. 1, 2014. That's especially imporant for the many people now being told by their insurance company that their current coverage will end on midnight, Dec. 31.If you wait until the Dec. 16 or later, your coverage won’t start until Feb. 1, and woe betide you if you slip on the ice and break your wrist in January.

Why Feb. 15, 2014? That’s the last date you can purchase insurance if you want to avoid being fined for not having insurance in 2014. The new health law says that you will be deemed “continuously insured” if you haven’t spent more than three months of the year without coverage. In other words, to avoid the penalty, you need to have insurance in place by the end of March and not a day later. In order to do that, you’ll need to purchase coverage by Feb. 15. If you wait until Feb. 16 or later,  coverage won’t start until April 1—one day over the three-month grace period

Got a question for our health insurance expert? Ask it here. It helps if you include the state you live in.

— Nancy Metcalf

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.

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