Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Endorsements and editorials are made solely by the ownership of this newspaper. As is the case at most newspapers across the nation, The Spokesman-Review newsroom and its editors are not a part of this endorsement process. (Learn more.)

Editorial: Clock ticking on the uninsured

The stakes have been raised for those without health care coverage, and the deadline to avoid the penalties is fast approaching.

The current enrollment period began Nov. 1, and the final day is Jan. 31. Tax penalties have increased this year for those failing to obtain coverage.

The penalty is $695 per adult or 2.5 percent of annual income, whichever is greater. For families, it’s $695 per adult, plus $347.50 per child. The maximum penalty is $2,085.

The penalty is a prod to encourage people to get covered. The Affordable Care Act has phased in the fines to allow people to get used to the law. The initial individual penalty was only $95 per adult. Last year, it was $325.

If you sign up today (Jan. 23), your coverage will kick in Feb. 1. It might be wise to do so just to miss the rush of expected sign-ups in the final week. Coverage begins March 1 for those who sign up after today and before the deadline.

The mandate to buy coverage is controversial, but the system functions better when more people sign up. Insurers get a better cross section of the population from which to design policies and set premiums. Plus, there is less cost-shifting to those who already have coverage.

Washington Healthplanfinder, the state’s online site for insurance policies, has seen increased traffic since the beginning of the new year. During the current enrollment period, about 180,000 people have renewed their plans or gotten new coverage, which is about a 50 percent increase over 2015, according to a Washington Health Benefit Exchange news release.

Young adults, a key demographic for insurers, are signing up at a much higher clip this year.

There are a few exceptions to the Jan. 31 deadline – for those having a child, for example, or those getting married – but otherwise you must wait for the next open enrollment on Nov. 1. (Medicaid enrollment is year-round.)

The state’s exchange website – – offers a way to shop, select policies and find out if you qualify for a federal subsidy. Navigators and brokers are also available to help customers pick among the myriad plans. The service is free, and contact information can be found at the website.

The website for Idahoans is

Idaho legislators recently learned the health care exchange saved the state’s catastrophic coverage program nearly $29 million. Under that program, counties cover the first $11,000 of an unpaid health care bill, with the state picking up the rest. This is funded with local property taxes.

But because more people have obtained health care coverage, the program has saved money. The state could save even more if it adopted expanded Medicaid coverage, but it chooses to sock it to taxpayers to make a political statement.

Some people also will choose to pay the penalties on principle. But for the rest, the clock is ticking, and those penalties will continue to grow until you get coverage.

To respond to this editorial online, go to and click on “Opinion.”