By Kieran McQuilkin and AP

Residents of Rockbridge County can enroll in healthcare coverage for 2015 beginning on Saturday.

The three-month open enrollment period on the Marketplace opens on Nov. 15 and will close on Feb. 15, 2015.

Coverage for 2014 healthcare plans expires on Dec. 31. If you miss open enrollment for 2015, you cannot buy coverage from the Marketplace until next year unless you qualify for special enrollment. According to, residents can apply for a special enrollment period within 60 days of a change in family status – marriage or the birth of a child – or a loss of other health coverage.

The Rockbridge Area Health Center has volunteers to help residents enroll. According to its website, applications can also be filed before Saturday, to be submitted when the enrollment window opens.

Failure to enroll in the national healthcare program results in a fee for every individual who is uninsured. According to, the fee is either 2 percent of household income or $325 per person ($162.50 for children under 18), whichever is higher. Those penalties are significantly higher than they were in 2014 – 1 percent of household income or $95 per adult and $47.50 per child.

According to the Virginia Health Care Foundation, health centers in Virginia reported 39 percent of their patients last year were uninsured.

At any time, citizens can enroll in Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and small business owners can offer coverage to employees.

Managing national expectations

The Obama administration sharply dialed down expectations Monday for the second year of the president’s push to provide health insurance for all Americans.

A report released Monday by the Department of Health and Human Services estimated that 9 million to 9.9 million paying customers will enroll for subsidized private coverage in 2015. That’s significantly lower than the 13 million the Congressional Budget Office had projected earlier this year.

Until now, the congressional numbers have been used as the yardstick for the program’s success. The new administration estimate was commissioned by HHS Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell shortly after she took over in the spring.

Critics are bound to accuse the White House of moving the goal posts. “Obamacare” remains unpopular in much of the country, and Republicans will keep crusading for its repeal when they assume full control of Congress next year.

At least one independent nonpartisan expert said either number could turn out to be valid.

“An estimate of 9 million enrollees is just as plausible and defensible as an estimate of 13 million,” said Larry Levitt of the Kaiser Family Foundation. On one hand, said Levitt, the law’s mandate that most Americans get covered or risk fines would argue for a bigger number. On the other hand, “there has never been a program as controversial and politically divisive … which could dampen how quickly enrollment grows,” he added.

Two ways to get coverage

The health care law has a two-pronged strategy for expanding coverage.

People who don’t have access on the job can buy taxpayer-subsidized private insurance through and state insurance exchanges. In fact, many are required to do so, to avoid fines. Open enrollment for next year starts Nov. 15.

Monday’s new estimates were for this group of people, those covered through the health insurance markets.

The other part of Obama’s strategy to cover uninsured Americans expands Medicaid to serve more low-income adults in states that accept the expansion. Overall, the number of uninsured Americans has come down by about 10 million this year.

It could be good news for taxpayers if, as the administration believes, fewer people sign up through the insurance exchanges in 2015. That would mean less spending on the program. But it would not be welcome news for hospitals, which might see bigger-than-expected numbers of uninsured people.

The administration said it disagrees with congressional number crunchers about how quickly Americans will come to accept the law, believing that more time will be needed.

Officials said they started with the current number of people enrolled through and state markets, which is 7.1 million.

Of these, they estimated 83 percent would re-enroll for 2015, or 5.9 million. Some of the remaining people might become uninsured, but more likely they would pick up coverage through a job as the economy keeps growing, or through another government program, such as Medicaid.

That would leave a goal of signing up 3 million to 4 million new customers for next year.

Community workers say they think it will prove harder to sign people up this year. Even with generous subsidies, some people still struggle to pay their premiums. And those who sat out last year probably tend to be more skeptical of the program. Nonetheless, fines for remaining uninsured will go up in 2015.

Consumers can get an early peek at 2015 premiums now on Window-shopping went live Sunday night.

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