Personal Finance

There’s just one week left to see if you qualify for free or low-cost private health insurance

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There’s about a week left for anyone who’s uninsured to see if they qualify for free or low-cost private health insurance through the public marketplace.

A special enrollment period that will end on Aug. 15 allows you to use healthcare.gov to sign up for a plan, which could come with major subsidies to reduce what you pay for coverage. Otherwise, unless you have a qualifying life event — i.e., job loss, birth of a child, etc. — after the current window closes, you’d generally have to wait until open enrollment this fall to sign up.

Since the Feb. 15 start of the special enrollment period, more than 1.5 million people have secured coverage through the marketplace, which was authorized by the Affordable Care Act of 2010. Another 2.5 million people who already were enrolled through the exchange have been able to lower the cost of their premiums.

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Most enrollees get financial help. And due to the American Rescue Plan Act, which was signed into law in March by President Joe Biden, the subsidies (technically tax credits) are bigger for 2021 and 2022, and will reach a greater number of people. (The Democrats’ current budget plan seeks to extend the expanded credits.)

Before that expansion, the aid was generally only available to households with income from 100% to 400% of the poverty level. The cap is eliminated through next year, and the amount that anyone pays in premiums will be limited to 8.5% of their income as calculated by the exchange.

Additionally, zero-premium health plans that come with minimal or no cost-sharing — i.e., deductibles and copays — are available to you if you’ve collected unemployment at any point this year.

Overall, about 3 out of 5 eligible uninsured Americans should be able to access zero-premium plans, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. That includes those who would qualify under the unemployment provision.

Be aware that you generally cannot qualify for subsidies through the ACA exchange if you can get health coverage through your employer.

If you’re new to the marketplace, the best place to start is healthcare.gov.

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