Open enrollment for non-group health insurance ends August 15

Open enrollment for non-group health insurance ends August 15

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Individuals and families in Massachusetts who want to buy health insurance on their own, outside of an employer’s plan or government-subsidized program, should do so during an open enrollment period in effect now through August 15. Otherwise, they will have to wait a year for the next one, which begins in July 2012.

Under a state healthcare law enacted in 2006, most Massachusetts residents are required to have health insurance. Uninsured adults can incur tax penalties.

New legislation passed last year, however, limits when people may purchase individual (non-group) health insurance. The rules do not apply to government-subsidized programs such as MassHealth, Commonwealth Care, and TRICARE, for example.

“It’s a little odd in the sense that Massachusetts requires people to have insurance, yet if it’s October and you’re uninsured and don’t meet exceptions to the rule, you can’t purchase it until July of the next year,” Vineyard Health Care Access (VHCA) director Sarah Kuh said.

The move to a specified, limited open enrollment period was done to curb high increases in health insurance rates, according to a consumer alert about the change in law on the Massachusetts Division of Insurance website.

Previously, when eligible individuals could purchase insurance at any time during the year, some would buy insurance only when they needed medical services and then drop the coverage after their insurance paid for the cost of treatment.

By limiting the times of year that health insurance is available for purchase, the rationale is that individuals will buy coverage and keep it, rather than drop it when they don’t need it. That should help lower costs for everyone, the insurance division website said.

Some people may meet special conditions to allow them to buy a plan outside the open enrollment period. A list of those exceptions is available online at MAhealthconnector.org.

For more information call VHCA at 508-696-0020.