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Self-employed? Sign up by March 31 for health coverage

The Affordable Care Act provides comprehensive health insurance reforms designed to ensure Americans have access to quality, affordable health care coverage.

And with only a couple weeks to go during this open enrollment period, now is the time for self-employed business owners to sign up for a plan.

As administrator for the mid-Atlantic Region of the U.S. Small Business Administration, my goal is to make sure small businesses in Pennsylvania have the information they need about the Affordable Care Act to make informed decisions that are best for their businesses.

With new health insurance marketplaces (also referred to as exchanges) open, self-employed business owners have more options than ever to find affordable health care coverage. Self-employed people and other consumers can buy private insurance coverage from a range of options and – depending on income and residency – potentially qualify for additional subsidies such as Medicaid or tax credits.

Coming up, there are important dates that self-employed business owners need to know if they want to sign up for coverage for this year:

• For self-employed small-business owners, open enrollment for 2014 coverage ends March 31. The exception is if you have a qualifying life event that provides you with a special enrollment period such as marriage, divorce, birth or adoption of a child or loss of a job.

• The next open enrollment period is proposed to begin Nov. 15 for health insurance coverage that begins Jan. 1, 2015.

You can apply for Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program at any time.

Why enroll?

First, increased access to health care will make it easier for potential entrepreneurs to go out on their own instead of staying at larger firms simply because of “job lock” or the lack of access to affordable insurance outside of their existing employment.

Additionally, small-business owners have historically paid as much as 18 percent more for health care coverage than larger companies. The Affordable Care Act helps level the playing field and slows cost growth. And with consumer protections such as insurance rate reviews and a ban on denying coverage for pre-existing conditions in place, the law provides greater certainty that small-business owners can access the coverage they need, when they need it.

If you don’t have health coverage in 2014, you may have to pay a penalty. You don’t have to pay the penalty if you enroll in a plan by the end of this month.

To find an insurance plan that meets your needs, check the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services insurance finder tool at https://www.healthcare.gov/find-premium-estimates/.

By answering a few simple questions, you’ll be able to find health insurance plans in Pennsylvania and explore whether there are facilities in your area that provide free or reduced-cost health care.

To browse coverage options, assess potential subsidies and buy your plan online through the individual marketplace, go to www.healthcare.gov.

For more information about other provisions affecting self-employed business owners under the Affordable Care Act, go to www.sba.gov/healthcare.

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