Obamacare: dates for open enrollment, plan start

I know open enrollment starts October 1, but once I pick my plan, when does my coverage start?   I have Cobra now but as of January 2014 I will no longer have coverage.  So I would like to be ahead of the game. This next month my income will be changing so how do you calculate the costs? 

Washington Stater

Dear Washington Stater,

You are correct that open enrollment starts October 1.  As of October 1, you can select your plan that will start coverage on January 1, 2014 – right when your COBRA coverage will be ending.  In theory, you should be able to go right from your COBRA coverage to your new plan without missing a beat.

Washington State is hosting its own health insurance marketplace.  It’s called the Washington Healthplanfinder or you can call them at 1-855-WAFinder.  You might want to visit the website and sign up to be notified when enrollment information is published.

How much subsidy (government help) you get to pay for your health insurance is directly related to your income, as you know.  Anyone earning less than 400% of federal poverty ($45,960 for a household of one person) does not qualify for any subsidies.  You will estimate your annual income when you enroll; this will be used to calculate how much help you get.  If your estimate is high, then when you file your taxes, the government might owe you more subsidy money.  If you estimate low – and end up making more money – you might owe them money. This is very similar to the way your regular income tax refund works every April 15th.  Since the subsidy might be a lot of money, you might be better off estimating your income higher than you think it will actually be

Exchanges, since they are brand new, may or may not have a working system to handle changes in income.  This would mean re-calculating subsidies in mid-year, and changing how much the government is paying your insurer.  After a quick look, I did not see anything on Washington’s website about reporting income changes.   This only means that you will want to be careful about your income estimate when you enroll – you may have to live with it for the whole year.

Linda Riddell

About Linda Riddell

A published author and health policy analyst with 25 years’ experience, Linda Riddell's goal is to alleviate the widespread ailment of not knowing what your health plan can do for you.