In Its Third Year, Obamacare Faces Growing Pains


“They’re not immaterial, and it’s only going to put more pressure on people in terms of being able to afford it,” he said.

Consumers who remain uninsured next year and don’t have an exemption from the law’s coverage mandate may be surprised to learn of increased penalties for 2016. The fee is 2.5 percent of annual household income or $695 per person (half of that for children), whichever is higher. This compares to 2 percent of income or $325 per person in 2015.

The penalties will kick in when people file their federal tax returns in 2017.

“I think there will definitely be some sticker shock when that happens,” Cunningham said.

Targeting younger, poorer adults

Currently, about 10.5 million uninsured people are still believed to be eligible for coverage through the federal and state marketplaces.

Nearly half are young adults, who tend to think they don’t need health insurance or think they can’t afford it.

“I’ve had a number of ‘young invincibles’ who just don’t want to spend the money on coverage and don’t care about the penalty,” said Robert Slayton, a Naperville, Ill.-based health insurance broker.

What’s more, many uninsured Americans still don’t know that they may qualify for federal subsidies to lower the cost of coverage, federal officials acknowledged.

Almost 40 percent of the uninsured who are qualified to enroll in an Affordable Care Act plan have incomes between 139 percent and 250 percent of the federal poverty level, or roughly $34,000 to $61,000 for a family of four. More than one-third are people of color, HHS officials said.

“Our research tells us they’re going to be harder to reach,” HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell acknowledged during a recent speech at Howard University in Washington, D.C., highlighting the health-reform law’s successes and goals for the upcoming enrollment period.

Obstacles include a lack of knowledge about eligibility for coverage, language barriers and the affordability concerns.

HHS is focusing its enrollment efforts in several large urban markets, including Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Miami and northern New Jersey.

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