Deadline is Sunday to avoid tax penalty for not having health insurance



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LEXINGTON, Kentucky — With all of the controversy surrounding the Affordable Care Act last year, self-employed welder Tom Sudduth figured there was no way the law would survive.

So he ignored it.

But this year, the 57-year-old had to pay a tax penalty because he did not have health insurance for at least nine months last year. So on Friday, Sudduth was one of a few dozen people in line at the kynect store in the Fayette Mall to sign up for health insurance ahead of Sunday's deadline.

"There are no benefits when you are self-employed," he said. "I've been blessed with good health, but like I said, I can feel the years coming on."

A family of four in Kentucky earning more than $24,250 a year has until midnight Sunday to sign up for health insurance to avoid a federal tax penalty - $325 per person or 2 percent of household income, whichever is larger. The penalty only applies to people who earn more than 100 percent of the federal poverty level, including those who earn between 100 percent and 138 percent that are eligible for the Medicaid expansion.

People who are eligible can sign up for Medicaid at any time. But everyone else has until midnight Sunday to purchase a qualified health plan through kynect, the state exchange, which could include federal subsidies to lower your monthly premiums depending on your situation.

State officials said Friday they did not know how many Kentuckians were uninsured and would be subject to the penalty after Sunday. Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear said less than 12 percent of the state is uninsured, but some of them won't be penalized because they fall below 100 percent of the federal poverty level.

Enrollments through kynect have slowed in its second year of operation, with about 25,000 people purchasing private plans compared with more than 70,000 last year. Altogether more than half a million people have signed up for health insurance through kynect, but most of those people have enrolled in Medicaid, the government-funded health insurance program for the poor.

In its first year of operation, just three health insurance companies sold private plans on kynect. The Kentucky Health Cooperative was the lone nonprofit, estimating it would sign up about 30,000 people. Instead, it sold more than 57,000 plans - so much that it had to take a $65 million federal solvency loan in November.

But other nonprofit health insurance companies have found it more difficult to duplicate Kentucky Health Cooperative's success during the second enrollment period. CareSource, an Ohio-based nonprofit insurer, has sold about 4,600 private health plans in 16 counties covering the northern Kentucky, Louisville and Lexington areas during its first year on the exchange.

"That's one of the things we are seeing as a second year player is they did such a great job ... of promoting kynect and getting coverage that, you know, the market is very saturated. There are a lot of people who got coverage last year," said Jenny Michael, CareSource's director of corporate communications.

Jon Copley, executive director of CareSource's Kentucky market, said the company was on track to meet its enrollment goals. He said the company is encouraging people who purchased insurance plans last year to shop around on the exchange before renewing their plans to see if they can get a better deal.

State officials made a number of changes for the second enrollment period, including launching a mobile phone app, authorized more than a 1,000 new insurance agents to sell plans through kynect and opened a store at the Fayette Mall in Lexington.

While people can sign up for health insurance online and over the phone, about 7,500 people have visited the store in Lexington, and 5,500 of those have filled out applications. It's a necessity for people like Sudduth, who drove more than 40 miles to visit the store.

"I can't even turn on a computer," he said.

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