More than 12.2 million Americans were signed up for Obamacare as of August 2021. More than 2.8 million of them took advantage of a special enrollment period prompted by the coronavirus. But that still leaves many people who have said, "No, thanks."
You may be wondering what's in it for you, particularly since you'll no longer be hit with a tax penalty if you don't carry health coverage. The Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, offers quite a few benefits, but it has some drawbacks as well.
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How Obamacare Works
Enrolling in Obamacare lets you select a health plan from the Health Insurance Marketplace, something like an online health insurance mall that offers a variety of coverage options. You can shop here for the best plan for you based on things like premiums and out-of-pocket costs.
Participating marketplace plan insurers offer four "tiers" of plans: bronze, silver, gold and platinum. The bronze plans offer minimal premiums, but you'll pay more out of pocket if you need care. It's the reverse with platinum plans. You'll pay more significant premiums but your out-of-pocket costs will be less.
Advantages of Obamacare
The whole idea behind Obamacare is to make sure that Americans have access to affordable health care, and that's a good thing. It restricts insurers such tactics as declining to cover care in some cases because it would cost them too much. Insurers also can't deny you eligibility because of pre-existing conditions.
The federal government provides cost-sharing subsidies to help you afford a policy if you purchase it through the Marketplace. About 90 percent of applicants qualify for at least some assistance, and the American Rescue Plan increased these perks in 2021 in response to COVID-19. These increases are expected to remain in place through 2022.
Policies can be had for premiums of $10 a month or less when you factor in these subsidies, but you have to qualify for them based on your income. Some taxpayers can even get coverage for free if their incomes fall below one and a half times the federal poverty level, which calculates to about $20,000 in 2021. Your premiums can't exceed more than 8.5 percent of your annual income no matter how much you earn. The average premium was $81 a month in 2021.
Consider also: How to Save a Ton on Health Insurance Immediately
Disadvantages of Obamacare
Somebody has to pay for all this, and opponents of the ACA argue that you're still paying just as much – or almost as much – as you were before Obamacare went into effect. You're just paying in tax dollars rather than insurance premiums. Several new taxes were implemented to cover ACA costs. The income tax changes were targeted mostly at high earners, but taxes on pharmaceutical products and medical devices increased as well.
The ACA also requires that businesses with 50 or more full-time employees must offer them health insurance, so many Americans have found their work hours cut or out of work completely, adding to their financial woes.
And the Marketplace website is not without its challenges. It does provide some guidance if you hit a brick wall when trying to apply or select a plan, however.
Consider also: Do I Have to Accept Employer Offered Health Insurance?
How to Enroll in Obamacare
The open enrollment deadline for 2022 coverage has been extended to Jan. 15, 2022, but coverage won't begin until Feb. 1, 2022 if you wait until this date. You had until Dec. 15, 2021 if you wanted your coverage to continue or begin on Jan. 1, 2022.
Residents of six states have even longer to take advantage of open enrollment. The deadline is Jan. 23 in Massachusetts, and open enrollment ends on Jan. 31 in California, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Washington, D.C.
Create an account at HealthCare.gov to submit an application and shop for a plan. You can do the same to update your existing application with your anticipated 2022 income and family circumstances if you're already covered.
Your insurer may automatically re-enroll you in your existing plan if you already have Marketplace coverage and you don't take advantage of the open enrollment period to approve or make changes to your coverage by Dec. 15, 2021. You should receive a letter from your insurer if this has happened to you. You can simply do nothing if you're OK with this, or you have until Jan. 15 to log into the Marketplace and select a new plan.
- HealthCare.gov: Automatic Re-enrollment – Keeps You Covered, But It’s Better to Update & Shop 2022 Plans
- HealthInsurance.org: Four Reasons to Not Wait Until January to Enroll in an ACA Health Plan
- AARP: ACA Open Enrollment for 2022 Extends to Jan. 15
- HealthAffairs: Record-High Marketplace Enrollment, New Census Data, and More
- Healthline: The Pros and Cons of Obamacare
- HealthMarkets Insurance Agency: The Pros and Cons of the Affordable Care Act
- HealthCare.gov: Marketplace