When do I have to have health insurance under Obamacare? And what happens if I still don’t have coverage? I’m not sure I’ll be able to find a plan I can afford.
Uninsured But Wondering
Dear Uninsured But Wondering,
January 1, 2014 is the start date for health reform’s requirement that people have health insurance. This applies to only to legal U.S. citizens and legal residents. There are a few ways to go without health insurance and not have to pay the penalty:
- You can go less than three months without coverage.
- You can have an income low enough that the lowest cost plan is more than 8% of your income.
- Your income is low enough that you do not have to file taxes.
- You can have a religious objection to being insured.
American Indians, people in jail, and undocumented immigrants also can go bare.
Otherwise, you can go without insurance and pay the penalty. In fact, the penalty is a bit flimsy. The law does not allow the IRS to pursue you to pay it; they cannot put a lien on your house, or garnish your wages. In any case, the penalty in 2014 is $95 or 1% of your household income, whichever is more. It goes up every year until it hits $695 or 2.5% of income in 2015; and then goes up by cost-of-living every year after that.
As for being able to afford a plan, you can qualify for government help if your income is below certain levels. See the Kaiser Family Foundation’s Health Reform Subsidy Calculator to estimate how much you might get.