Stay uninsured on purpose? That's a bad idea

You can't always sign up after you get sick

Published: September 24, 2013 02:30 PM

Opponents of the new health care law have been vigorously urging healthy, uninsured young adults to refuse to comply with the new requirement to get covered as of 2014.

“Burn your Obamacare card” in protest, advises FreedomWorks, an anti-reform group based in Washington, D.C. “After all, you can sign up for coverage after you get sick,” wrote a FreedomWorks official in an editorial in the Washington Times.

Except you can’t always sign up for coverage after you get sick. Here’s why.

Every fall from now on, there’s going to be an open enrollment period during which individuals can sign up for or change their health insurance. The first open enrollment is extra-long to give everyone time to get familiar with a new system. It starts on Oct. 1 and extends through March 31, 2014. But in subsequent years, open enrollment will run annually from Oct. 15 through Dec. 7 (same as Medicare’s open enrollment period).

Today is day 2 of our 100-day Health Reform Countdown. We're getting ready for Jan.1, 2014, when the new health law takes full effect. See Day 1: Big changes coming. And see our full coverage of health insurance and health reform.

Say you do burn your Obamacare card (which could be a little challenging, given that there is no such thing), and rupture your Achilles tendon playing soccer on April 1, the day after open enrollment ends. If you try to “sign up for coverage after you get sick,” you’ll be told to wait until the next open enrollment period in the fall of 2014, for coverage that starts on Jan. 1. Not because you're sick, but because no one can buy insurance outside of the open enrollment period except in a few special situations.

That’s a long time to hobble around on crutches.

You can, of course, always play the odds, which are in your favor. But if you end up with a losing hand, the results can be catastrophic. Here’s a first-person account from Brian Beutler, a young politics blogger, about what happened when he needed $200,000 in medical care after being shot in a street robbery.

Got a question for me? Ask it here. It helps if you include the state you live in.

—Nancy Metcalf


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