On the Money Insurance Enrollment Finding Help

This Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2018 photo shows HealthCare.gov website on a computer screen in New York. The sign-up period for next year’s individual health insurance coverage runs from Nov. 1 to Dec. 15. Picking a plan can initially involve several trips to websites like healthcare.gov just to understand the options. Shoppers who want to stick with the same plan must scrutinize it for changes. (AP Photo/Patrick Sison)

New Jersey residents will have to pay a penalty if they go without health insurance in 2019 under a new state law that takes effect starting New Year’s Day.

The New Jersey Health Insurance Market Preservation Act continues the ACA mandate that requires residents to have and pay for insurance, or else they are at risk of paying hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars in penalties when they file their 2019 tax returns.

President Donald Trump repealed the mandate on a federal level earlier last year.

An individual who does not have insurance during a month in 2019 will have to pay about 2.5 percent of his or her income, which could be somewhere between $695 and $3,012, according to the state Department of the Treasury.

The penalty would be more, in many cases, for families, but there are exemptions.

The law isn’t meant to punish people, advocates said, but to encourage people to get insurance coverage.

“Restoring the individual mandate is essential to keeping healthcare affordable, as it will ensure younger and healthier people obtain insurance and spread the risk in the health insurance pool,” Ray Castro, director of health police at left-leaning policy and advocacy group New Jersey Policy Prospective, said in a statement when the law was passed.

“Without robust participation of these individuals, insurance premiums will climb and the market could destabilize,” he said.

The state’s uninsured rate has dropped steadily since Medicaid was expanded under the ACA in 2013, when the rate was about 13 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The uninsured rate in New Jersey was about 8 percent in 2017.

Policy experts say the ACA marketplaces and plans have insured many people who did not have coverage before, but the number of people selecting plans in open enrollment for the last two years has dipped.

About 22,000 fewer residents signed up for plans during this year’s enrollment period, which ended Dec. 15, according to the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Joel Cantor, director of the Rutgers University Center for State Health Policy, said the state created laws and policies to stabilize and strengthen the program. Despite announcing that average premium prices would decrease this year, there was still a decline in signups.

“I thought the brought down premiums would have made a bigger difference than they did,” he said.

More than 250,000 people made ACA plan selections in open enrollment this year, federal reports show, though final enrollment numbers won’t be released until the spring.

Cantor said a lack of federal funding for ACA advertising, support services and consumer education may have played a part in the decline of signups, as well as conflicting information coming out of the nation’s capital.

“The state did what it could to step up with messaging about (ACA) enrollment, but I doubt they could have closed the gaps that came from those cutbacks,” he said.

It could also be that the country’s good economic status and high employment rates have led to more people getting insurance from their employers or from small businesses that feel pressured to offer insurance benefits, he said.

“Those are good things. We do want to see use of the (ACA) marketplace go down, because it’s a safety net,” Cantor said.

For more information about the individual mandate and penalties, see state.nj.us/treasury/njhealthinsurancemandate.

Contact: 609-272-7022 NLeonard@pressofac.com Twitter @ACPressNLeonard

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