If I don’t buy health insurance now, but decide to buy it later on, can I?

Q: I’m uninsured. If I still don’t buy health insurance in 2016, but decide to buy it at a later point, can I?

A: Yes, the health reform law was not designed to bar anyone from the system. It just asks that we all contribute to the insurance pool, according to our ability to pay, because eventually, virtually everyone needs medical care.

You will, however, have to pay an Obamacare penalty for years you do not purchase health insurance. This took effect in 2014, so you may have already been subject to the penalty when you filed your 2014 and 2015 tax returns. Be aware that the penalty is much higher for 2016 than it was in 2014 and 2015. It’s a minimum of $695 per uninsured adult in 2016 (payable when 2016 tax returns are filed in the spring of 2017).

That said, you’ll have a chance to enroll each year, during open enrollment. During that window, your medical and insurance history aren’t relevant – coverage is available to all legally-present applicants, and premium subsidies are available depending on your income. If you decide to enroll in a later year, your premium at that point will be the same as it would have been if you’d been continuously insured, and there are no longer any waiting periods or exclusions for pre-existing conditions.

But coverage is not available at all outside of open enrollment, unless you have a qualifying event, are eligible for Medicaid, or are Native American. So know that if you choose not to purchase coverage during open enrollment, you may not have another opportunity to obtain coverage until the following year.

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Related terms

Affordable Care Act (ACA)