Today is the launch day for the health insurance marketplaces created by the Affordable Care Act so you may be wondering what you need to do. The answer is: Nothing.
Regardless of your family situation, current insurance status, income, etc. you don’t have to do anything. Not today and not tomorrow. If you happen to be super-curious you should by all means feel free to check out HealthCare.gov but honestly you do not need to take any action. And pragmatically speaking, today is probably a bad choice of day to try to create your account. Lots of people will be logging on and various pranksters will be doing whatever, and there is no advantage to trying to sign up today as opposed to waiting a week.
What’s more, if you already get health insurance through your employer, get Medicare, get Medicaid, get Veteran’s Administration health care, etc. then you don’t need to do anything ever at all. That’s 85 percent of the population. The launch of the marketplaces is a big deal, but it’s not that big a deal. Many of us who won’t be using the marketplaces as long as we stay in our current jobs may have occasion to use them in future years and may feel good knowing that if something changes in our work situation that won’t leave us uninsured or uninsurable. But in practice only a relatively small slice of the population will be using these programs in the launch year.
But if you’re currently uninsured or buy insurance on the individual market, then what happens is that sometimes over the next sixth months you need to check out the marketplace for your state and the available plans. That’s the “open enrollment period.”
Pragmatically speaking, though, just as trying to sign up today is a mistake waiting six months is also a mistake. Coverage for any plans you sign up for will be available on Jan. 1, but only if you sign up by December 15—wait longer and you’ll have to wait longer for coverage to kick in.* And since you probably want to give yourself some time to consider your options maybe try to sign up by Thanksgiving so you’ll have some Obamacare anecdotes to tell your family?
* This post has been updated to clarify the Dec. 15 cutoff to be eligible for benefits starting on Jan. 1.