Americans Only Have 1 More Week to Sign Up for Free or Low-Cost Health Insurance

by Maurie Backman | Published on Aug. 9, 2021

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A doctor lets a young boy use his stethoscope.

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Need health insurance? The clock is running out to see if you qualify for a hefty subsidy

Going without health insurance is pretty much never a good idea. And during a pandemic, it's an especially dangerous thing to do. But there's a big reason why many Americans routinely skip health coverage -- the cost.

Right now, though, health insurance through the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is easier to swing than ever. And for some people, it may actually be free. But if you're without coverage, you'll need to act quickly to sign up. You only have one more week to take advantage of a special enrollment period that could give you the coverage you need without wreaking havoc on your bank account.

The window to sign up for health insurance is closing

Normally, ACA open enrollment begins in the fall and runs through December. Enrollees who miss that window to sign up for a health insurance plan usually have to wait until the following fall to obtain coverage.

This year, however, President Biden has expanded the window to sign up for an ACA health plan. And right now, there's still an opportunity to enroll in health insurance at what could be a very affordable price. But that window expires on August 15, so if you haven't yet explored your options, now's the time to get moving.

Lower-cost coverage for those in need

Ever since President Biden opened up his special health insurance enrollment window, over 1.5 million Americans have signed up for an ACA plan. Meanwhile, another 2.5 million people who were already enrolled in health plans were able to lower their costs.

If you need health coverage, you may be eligible for a plan that doesn't cost very much. That's because there's currently a special provision that extends the scope of enrollees who are eligible for subsidies.

Normally, only enrollees with incomes from 100% to 400% of the poverty level are entitled to health insurance subsidies. Now, even earners above that cap are eligible for a break on their premiums. In fact, the amount you'll now pay for your premiums is limited to 8.5% of your income. And you may be entitled to a plan that doesn't charge a premium at all if you've collected unemployment benefits at any point this year.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services estimates that about 60% of uninsured Americans may be eligible for a zero-premium health insurance plan right now, so if you received unemployment this year, it pays to see if you qualify. But even if you have to spend some money on health coverage, it's worth getting.

Without health insurance, you could end up on the hook for costly medical bills that drive you into debt and upend your finances. In fact, medical debt is what often forces consumers to file for bankruptcy. If you haven't yet looked into health insurance, go to healthcare.gov and explore your options -- before you run out of time.

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