Medicare officials are giving consumers another chance to enroll in health insurance this year.

On Feb. 20, the agency opened a special enrollment period, running from March 15 through April 30, for individuals who are just finding out about the tax penalty for failing to purchase health insurance.

“We recognize that this is the first tax filing season where consumers may have to pay a fee or claim an exemption for not having health insurance coverage,” Marilyn Tavenner, Administrator of Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, said in a statement. “Our priority is to make sure consumers understand the new requirement to enroll in health coverage and to provide those who are not aware or did not understand the requirement with an opportunity to enroll in affordable coverage this year.”

The special enrollment period is an extra chance to sign up for 2015 coverage, but it won’t spare anyone from paying the penalty for not having insurance in 2014. That will cost consumers $95 per adult or 1% of income, whichever is greater. But if they sign up for 2015 coverage, they can avoid paying the higher penalty of $325 per adult or 2% of income, whichever is greater. They will still have to pay a fee for any months when they didn’t have coverage in 2015.

The special enrollment period is limited to individuals who live in states that use the federal insurance marketplace. They are eligible if they are currently not enrolled for 2015 through the marketplace, attest that they paid a fee on their 2014 tax return for not having coverage in that year, and attest that they first understood the implications of the penalty after the end of open enrollment in connection with preparing their taxes.

CMS estimates that 2%-4% of taxpayers will pay the penalty for not having coverage in 2014.

gtwachtman@frontlinemedcom.com

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