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Answers about today’s deadline to sign up for health insurance

By Christopher Snowbeck

 St. Paul Pioneer Press  Sign up for health insurance today? Or pay a tax penalty next year?  That’s the choice facing Minnesotans who lack coverage and need to sign up for insurance by midnight to comply with the federal Affordable Care Act. To create a new option for people to obtain coverage, the health law established new insurance exchanges such as MNsure, which is an online marketplace for individuals and small businesses to purchase coverage in Minnesota.

“We have been busy at work across the state of Minnesota during this final push to get people enrolled in health insurance,” said Scott Leitz, the interim chief executive officer at MNsure. “ … Now is the time to sign up.”

Leitz added: “It is crucially important that Minnesotans know that March 31st is the last day for individuals and families to enroll in a private health plan inside or outside of MNsure. We have no reason to believe there will be an enrollment (deadline) extension.”

Depending on their income, people who use a government-run exchange can qualify for financial assistance to discount the cost of health insurance. People also have the option of buying coverage without a subsidy from an insurance company.

Here are some questions and answers about today’s deadline.

Q: What’s the tax penalty for not having health insurance?

A: The health law’s tax in the first year is $95 or 1 percent of annual income, whichever is greater. Penalties are scheduled to get bigger in the future.

Q: Is anyone exempt from this?

A: People with incomes below $10,150 can avoid the tax penalty. Exemptions also are available to members of federally recognized Indian tribes and people who belong to what are known as “health care sharing ministries.”

The Social Security Administration also administers a process for recognizing religious sects that are conscientiously opposed to accepting any insurance benefits. Members of such groups also can be exempt from penalties.

Q: If I don’t sign up for coverage today, can I do so tomorrow or later?

A: After March 31, many won’t have another chance to purchase coverage until the next open enrollment period begins Nov. 15. Policies bought at that point would take effect Jan. 1.

There will be some exceptions. After today, people still will be able to enroll in the state’s Medicaid and MinnesotaCare health insurance programs. There’s also a chance to buy coverage after March 31 in the case of “life events,” such as the loss of job-based coverage, marriage or the birth of a child.

Q: When would the tax penalty be collected?

A: Penalties for people who lack what the health law calls “minimum essential coverage” will be assessed on taxes filed during 2015. For most people, there is no impact from the federal health law on taxes being filed this spring, according to the Internal Revenue Service.

Q: What if I can’t get the MNsure website to work, or my application is stuck in the system?

A: Minnesotans who don’t have coverage completed by 11:59 p.m. could be considered “in line” for MNsure if they can show they were trying to get insurance. People can document attempts in several ways, including the completion of a “MNsure Enrollment Attempt Form,” which is available at

Those who are in line for coverage when the deadline arrives can avoid the tax penalty if they go on to finalize coverage.

Q: If I buy a commercial health insurance policy today, when will the coverage start?

A: Coverage from private health plans sold through MNsure takes effect May 1. The same goes for policies purchased directly from most health insurance companies, although customers at Minnetonka-based Medica could have coverage start April 1 under certain circumstances.

Q: How do I contact MNsure?

A: Go to or call 855-366-7873. The call center will be open until midnight tonight.

Q: What if I need help?

A: Health insurance agents as well as a new group of consumer advisers called “navigators” are available — go to for a director of assisters. The website also lists enrollment events scheduled for today.

The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.

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