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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Deadline Approaching To Get Insurance Through The Affordable Care Act

This is the last week for Montanans to shop for health insurance on The deadline is Sunday, February 15. And it’s a hard deadline, says Jeff Hinson, with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

"They will not be able to enroll after the 15th, unless they have a life-changing event."

A life-changing event is something like leaving a job with insurance benefits, getting married or divorced, or having child.

People who miss the deadline and remain uninsured will face a bigger tax penalty in 2016. This year the penalty is $95 for uninsured adults, or 1 percent of income, whichever is greater.

Next year’s penalty will be "$325 per adult, and half that for kids that live in the household, with a maximum of $975 for a household or 2%, whichever is greater."

Hinson says that while paying the penalty may be cheaper than buying a health insurance policy, most Montanans who buy policies through are getting them for less than $100 a month.

"I would hope that the motivator would be that they get good quality health insurance, but I think that this will focus folks as they start doing their taxes this year, that there’s a shared responsibility for not having health insurance."

This year’s enrollment period comes as Montana has a new Senator and Congressman, and both are calling for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act. Senator Steve Daines is co-sponsoring Senate legislation to do so, calling it a "job killing," and saying the law "has forced thousands of hardworking Montanans to lose the doctors that they trusted and health care plans that they liked."

Since the law was enacted, Montana’s unemployment rate has dropped 2.4 percent, and, Jennifer McKee with the state insurance commissioner’s office, says the number of Montanans with health insurance coverage has grown.

"We estimated, and it is an estimate, that about 30,000 more Montanans had health insurance in 2014, than previous estimates of Montana’s uninsured population."

And more Montanans are getting coverage through than during the open enrollment period a year ago. The latest numbers say more than 48,000 people here have selected health plans, with a week left to go, compared to about 37,000 total a year ago.

This week there are a number of events around Montana offering people face to face help navigating, including in Missoula, Great Falls and Pablo.

Eric Whitney is NPR's Mountain West/Great Plains Bureau Chief, and was the former news director for Montana Public Radio.
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