Tax season prompts second chance at health care

Those who missed a chance at signing up for affordable health insurance by the Feb. 15 deadline have another chance. A special enrollment period from March 15 to April 30 will benefit certain residents who missed out on the winter open enrollment period.

But there’s a catch, said Eunice Terndrup, patient advocate and in-person assistor at the Shenandoah Community Health Clinic in Woodstock.

“They have to have done their taxes after Feb. 15,” she said.

She said the special enrollment period resulted from confusion people felt over penalties they didn’t realize they would need to pay for not having health insurance.

Some people learned when filing their 2014 taxes the penalties for not having health care last year, but next year’s penalties will be even higher.

Next spring, those without health insurance will have to pay 2 percent of their yearly household income, or $325 per person in their household ($162.50 per child under 18) for a maximum of $975. The following year, the penalty rises to 2.5 percent or $695 per person and in coming years will be adjusted for inflation.

Feb. 15 was the deadline to sign up for health care and avoiding next year’s penalties.

This is a second chance for those who qualify for affordable health insurance and can prove they prepared their 2014 taxes after Feb. 15.

The enrollment period will not help residents avoid this year’s penalties.

After learning of the special enrollment period, the clinic contacted area tax preparers. Blue Ridge Legal Services, which has offices in Winchester and Harrisonburg, also announced free civil legal assistance to low-income residents during the special enrollment period.

Terndrup said she has already heard from some wishing to sign up for insurance.

“From the response we have already gotten, I would say, yes, there are a lot of people who are going to benefit from this period,” she said.

The clinic, which serves Winchester and the counties of Frederick, Clarke, Page, Shenandoah and Warren, will take reservations for area residents who would like help signing up for health insurance. She and other in-person assistors are willing to meet with residents in the community as well.

“We’re trying to stay flexible,” she said.

In particular, Terndrup recommended clinic services to those who qualify for special tax exemptions like hardship exemptions.

These exemptions, outlined at the website http://preview.tinyurl.com/kbp9b37, include being homeless, recently having experienced domestic violence or the death of a close family member, filing bankruptcy and having been evicted or were facing eviction or foreclosure in the last six months.

The federal government, she said, is trying to ease Americans into the requirements of the Affordable Care Act, which penalizes those who don’t have health insurance and are not exempt from penalties.

Next year’s more stringent requirements include a new assessment for residents who live below 100 percent of the federal poverty level, she said.

Previously the assumption was that Medicaid covered health care needs of such individuals, but next year at tax time more paperwork will be required.

Next year, “No matter what your income, if you’re going to file [taxes], you have to have a Medicaid denial letter in hand,” Terndrup said.

Contact the Shenandoah Community Health Clinic at 124 Valley Vista Drive, Woodstock, by calling 540-459-1700. Contact Blue Ridge Legal Services, 303 S. Loudoun St., Winchester, by calling 540-662 5021 or emailing Aeron Hart at ahart@brls.org.

Contact staff writer Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or jkeelor@nvdaily.com