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Ask Emily on Take Two: Health care exchange sign-up extension

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Emily Bazar of the California Healthcare Foundation Center for Health Reporting joins guest host Ben Bergman to answer consumers’ questions about the Affordable Health Act.

This week we start with deadlines, which are changing. The last time Emily was on, December 15th was the final deadline to sign up for health care under the health insurance exchange, called Covered California. Now the deadline has been extended to December 23rd, if you want coverage to kick in January 1. 

Interview Highlights:

On the changes to the deadline to sign up for healthcare:
"This is the ever evolving Obamacare landscape here. It used to be that you had to sign up by December 15 in order to have your insurance kick in by January 1st and again, we are talking about people who are buying on the exchange or on the individuals market only, basically. However, just because of all the troubles with the website and that sort of thing, the government has pushed back that deadline.

"You can now sign up by December 23, which is Monday and you will be able to have your insurance start January 1st. If you really, really want to wait to the last minute this year, and this year only, you have until March 31st of 2014 to sign up. I don't know that I would recommend waiting until March 31st itself, but that's the deadline, the drop-dead deadline for this open enrollment cycle."

What if your income is too high to qualify for any tax credits?
"That's an excellent question and it really depends on the individual as do most of the things on Obamacare. Anybody can purchase on the exchange or off the exchange. However, as you said, if you're eligible for tax credits you can only get them if you buy from the exchange, which is called Covered California. Now, if you make too much and you can't get those tax credits, listeners should know that the exact same plans that are offered on the exchange are also offered in the open or private market at the exact same price. But remember, that exact same price is the full retail price, basically, without tax credits so you would be paying the full price on or off the exchange."

Why would you choose one over the other?
"Here's a couple things to take into consideration. One is that you may be able to find insurance plans that aren't offered on the exchange in your region, but that depends on your region. Now, how might these plans be different? Well, we have heard a lot about how some of the Covered California plans don't offer certain doctors or access to certain hospitals.

"There may be plans that are sold in the private market that have different networks, different provider networks. So you can check that out. Also, there may be plans that have different kind of benefits, not necessarily the medical benefits because all plans sold from now on have to meet the Obamacare requirements. Like if you know you use a lot of prescription drugs for instance, there may be plans with, for instance, lower prescription drug cost, but then you might pay for that in the premium."

What if you're an unemployed adult living with your parents? Does that disqualify from getting low-income benefits?
" It's household income that counts when you're trying to figure whether you're eligible for tax credits. Now, if that child is claimed as a dependent by his or her parents then they're income would count towards that child's income for eligibility purposes, both for medical and for the tax credits and that may well price them out, basically, from those tax credits. So again, check out whether you're being claimed as a dependent. It will have a big effect."

There have been millions of people who had their health care cancelled because their plans didn't meet the standards of Obamacare. What are the options for these people? If your plan has been cancelled and you need help, Emily suggests calling 855-857-0445.