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Health Insurance & Affordable Care Act

6 Changes to the Affordable Care Act

By Randy Dotinga

Reviewed by Lisa Zamosky

WebMD Health News

Nov. 27, 2013 -- To put it in surgical terms, the Affordable Care Act has had some work done. Here are six major changes made in recent months.

1. Consumers Have an Extra Week to Buy 2014 Coverage

Because of all the technical glitches affecting health insurance Marketplace web sites, the federal government is giving consumers more time to buy coverage that will begin on Jan. 1,  2014. People can now buy coverage as late as Dec. 23, 2013, instead of Dec. 15. This only applies to the federally run Marketplaces. States that run their own may have different deadlines.

Consumers will still be able to buy coverage for 2014 after this deadline. But it won't start on Jan. 1, and they must buy it no later than March 31, 2014, when open enrollment ends.

2. Customers Have More Time to Sign Up

The deadline to avoid a tax penalty was also extended. Although the open enrollment period has not changed and still runs through the end of March, to avoid a penalty, the system required people to buy coverage by Feb. 15. 

People can now buy coverage all the way through the last day of open enrollment on March 31, 2014, without facing penalties.

3. Enrollment Period Will Be Later for 2015

Americans can buy coverage for 2015 from Nov. 14, 2014, to Jan. 15, 2015. That's a change from the previously announced enrollment period of Oct. 15, 2014, to Dec. 7, 2014.

Officials said the change will give insurers more time to figure out their rates for 2015.

4. You Can Restart That Cancelled Policy -- Maybe

On the heels of the HealthCare.gov debacle, health care reform got another black eye when it became clear that many Americans would lose their existing insurance plans because their coverage didn’t meet new standards. In some cases, policyholders were furious because alternatives for new coverage were more expensive. Some people also found they wouldn't be allowed to keep their doctors.

President Obama had promised that people would be able to keep their plans and doctors under the Affordable Care Act.

Earlier this month, Obama allowed insurers to restart canceled policies if they wish. But they can only issue the policies if state insurance commissioners allow them to do so. And the insurers only have an extra year to align their policies with the rules or eliminate them.

"This fix won't solve every problem for every person," Obama said, "but it's going to help a lot of people."

5. Larger Businesses Can Wait to Provide Coverage

Last summer, the Obama administration announced that businesses with more than 50 workers don't need to offer insurance coverage to full-time employees by Jan. 1, 2014, or risk penalties.

The businesses now have an extra year to wait to offer the coverage. Some companies and their advocates had complained that the rules were too complex, and they wanted more time.

6. Some Consumers May Be Able to Bypass Marketplaces

The Obama administration is looking at ways to relieve the log-jam of Americans who've had trouble buying insurance coverage through the online Marketplaces.

One approach could allow certain consumers -- those eligible to get subsidies (financial help) because of lower income levels -- to bypass the Marketplaces and buy coverage directly from insurers and brokers. The challenge now is to figure out how to make such a system work.

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