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Window is closing to sign up or seek changes to Obamacare plans

People who got off to a rough start with Obamacare or have yet to pick a plan still have options— but only if they move quickly before the open enrollment period ends on March 31.

Those who were unable to sign up for a marketplace plan because of the glitches with federal or state websites can receive retroactive coverage to the date they originally applied, as well as retroactive premium tax credits and cost-sharing subsidies, the federal government announced in late February.

>> Read more trending stories  

In addition, some people who gave up on enrolling through their state’s balky marketplace and instead, bought a plan outside the exchange, may be able to switch to a marketplace plan and qualify for retroactive subsidies.  

The guidance leaves it up to individual states to decide whether they want to offer these options. The federal marketplace has its own process in place to bump back the effective coverage date for people who encountered those problems, says an official at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

“This [guidance] raises more questions than it answers,” says Sabrina Corlette, project director at Georgetown University’s Center on Health Insurance Reforms. “From a consumer perspective, it says nothing about what difficulties you have to have had to qualify or what documentation you have to show.”

In addition to difficulties enrolling, some consumers have been tripped up by inaccurate or incomplete information posted online about the benefits or providers available in a particular plan. They, too, may get some relief.

According to federal guidance released in early February, if enrollees encounter “benefit display errors,” such as inaccurate information about deductibles or coverage, insurers are encouraged to honor the information they displayed.

If the insurer fails to do so, and the misinformation might have affected a consumer’s choice of plan, that individual will generally be allowed to pick another plan at the same metal coverage level, offered by the same insurer. If consumers can’t find a good substitute with that insurer, they’ll have 60 days to select a new marketplace plan, the guidance says.

Similarly, if people have enrolled in a marketplace plan and then discovered that it doesn’t include doctors, hospitals or other providers they need, they may switch to another plan at the same metal level offered by the same insurer, according to the federal rules. However, changes due to provider network issues must be made by Mar. 31.

By the end of February, roughly 4 million people had signed up for a marketplace plan on the federal or state-based exchanges.

Picking a plan is only part of the process of getting coverage. Benefits only take effect when you pay your premium, says Sarah Lueck, a senior policy analyst at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

 “If you’ve never paid your premium, your insurer doesn’t consider you’re covered,” she says. 

People who haven’t enrolled by Mar. 31 may owe a penalty for not having health insurance in 2014.

In the past, people buying coverage directly from an insurer could generally sign up any time of the year as long as they got through the medical underwriting process that insurers used to evaluate applicants. Not anymore. Consumers who don’t sign up during the open enrollment period which ends Mar. 31 will generally have to wait until enrollment begins again next fall to sign up or change plans —unless their circumstances change, for instance, if they move, marry, or lose a job, among some of the more common examples.

In 2014, anyone who buys a plan during the open enrollment period won’t be penalized for not having insurance. However, people who bought coverage that begins April 1 or later (and who would otherwise be penalized because they had a coverage gap of three months or more) will have to claim a hardship exemption when they file their taxes next year to avoid the penalty.    

There are a number of circumstances that may exempt people from penalties for not having insurance. The long list of exemptions covers things like affordability—if the cheapest plan available in someone’s area costs more than 8 percent of his or her income — incarceration, and hardships such as being evicted or filing for bankruptcy.

More From This SeriesInsuring Your Health

People who don’t qualify for an exemption and don’t buy a plan might face a bigger financial hit than they anticipate. For 2014, the penalty is the greater of $95 or 1 percent of someone’s modified adjusted gross income over the filing limit ($10,150 for single person, $20,300 for a married couple filing jointly in 2014). 

 “We don’t talk about the $95 because it’s a complete myth,” says Brian Haile, senior vice president for tax policy at Jackson Hewitt Tax Service. Only a handful of people who might be subject to the penalty will have incomes low enough to qualify for that standard. 

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News

  • Atlanta police have been handing out the flyers across the city telling people that a permit is needed to give food to the homeless. The fliers are being used as a warning to those trying to help the homeless. Channel 2’s Justin Wilfon found one group who received more than a warning. Instead of getting praise for helping Atlanta’s homeless, Adele Maclean and Marlon Kautz say they’re getting punished for it. “We’re looking at a citation,” Maclean said. Channel 2 Action News’ cameras were there when police wrote the pair a ticket for handing out food to the homeless without a permit. “I mean outrageous, right? Of all the things to be punished for, giving free food to people who are hungry?” Maclean told Wilfon. TRENDING STORIES: Worker killed after woman drives onto sidewalk on busy road, police say There's a Christmas tree shortage in metro Atlanta Arrests made in violent robberies of Asian-owned businesses The pair said they give food to the homeless every Sunday in Atlanta’s Woodruff Park, and have never heard of needing a permit. “It seems ridiculous to me that they would be spending their time and resources on stopping people from feeding the homeless,” said Maclean said. Wilfon contacted the city to find out what was going on. A city representative said the Fulton and DeKalb County boards of health both require permits to give food to the homeless and the city of Atlanta enforces those requirements. While the requirements aren’t new, Atlanta police told Wilfon they recently started more strictly enforcing them for several reasons. The city believes there are better ways to help the homeless, like getting them into programs and shelters. They are also taking issue with the litter the food distributions leave behind. Ben Parks, who runs a nonprofit for the homeless, told Wilfon he can see the argument from both sides. “I understand where the city’s coming from. I understand when they see groups come in and leave a bunch of trash behind,' Parks said. While this ordinance is also on the books in DeKalb County, DeKalb police told Wilfon Wednesday that they are not using police to enforce it. They’re leaving that up to the health department.
  • A candidate for mayor says she has always wondered if the current mayor of Atlanta won his seat fair and square. Mary Norwood lost to current Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed in 2009. Make sure to tune in to WSB-TV as Keisha Lance Bottoms and Mary Norwood go head-to-head in a live runoff debate moderated by Channel 2’s Justin Farmer, LIVE on Sunday, Dec. 3 at 5 p.m.  Norwood told Channel 2’s Dave Huddleston that she never spoke publicly about the accusation because what she said she knew what happened wasn't significant enough to upset the entire system.  [WATCH: Keisha Lance Bottoms speaks on Channel 2 Action News This Morning] But our partners at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution got a copy of a transcript of a private June meeting where she brought up the 2009 election.  'I just want you to be who you say you are, live where you say you live and vote once,' Norwood told Huddleston.  [WATCH: Mary Norwood speaks on Channel 2 Action News This Morning] Norwood raised concerns about the 2009 election, which she lost to Reed by a couple of hundred votes.  TRENDING STORIES: Worker killed after woman drives onto sidewalk on busy road, police say There's a Christmas tree shortage in metro Atlanta Arrests made in violent robberies of Asian-owned businesses She told Huddleston that she always suspected there was voter fraud.  'I know there are instances where individuals were asked to vote in the election,' Norwood said.  She said individuals who didn’t live in Atlanta still voted in the mayor's race.   [SPECIAL SECTION: The Atlanta Mayor’s Race] Norwood said she's never talked publicly about the accusation, but privately has mentioned it to several groups, including last June, at a meeting that was recorded and leaked to the AJC. 'I have spoken privately to many groups, including last night to the NAACP, about the fact that I did not go public with some things I was concerned about with that election,' Norwood said.  ATLANTA MAYOR QUICK FACTS The city’s last five mayors have been African-American The last 27 have been Democrats There have only ever been two Republican mayors of Atlanta Shirley Franklin was the first female mayor of Atlanta. The next mayor will be the second Only four former Atlanta mayors were born in Atlanta Click here for more facts about Atlanta mayors Huddleston contacted Reed for a comment on this story Wednesday. His spokesperson responded and said in part: “If Mary Norwood had proof that the election results were invalid in 2009, she should have stepped forward and challenged the results then. She did not because she could not. She has no evidence to back up her claims. She has been a public official for the past four years and never raised any concerns about the integrity of our voting system.' Norwood said after the 2009 race, she joined the Fulton County Elections Board to get a new director on staff.  She told Huddleston that she's confident the Dec. 5 mayor's race will be fair, accurate and impartial.
  • Dennis Schroder scored 26 points and the Atlanta Hawks used a 30-point third quarter to snap a three-game losing streak and beat the New York Knicks 116-104 on Friday night.The Hawks, last in the Eastern Conference with a 4-15 record, won just their second home game by outhustling New York with a 24-5 advantage in second-chance points.Kristaps Porzingis finished with 28 points and Courtney Lee added 26 for the Knicks, who led by 17 in the first quarter. New York's bench was outscored 37-16 as Marco Belinelli had 15 points and Ersan Ilyasova scored 10 for Atlanta.The Knicks, falling to 1-5 on the road, never led after Ilyasova's 3-pointer with 4:21 left in the third quarter. They led by eight at halftime.New York struggled all night to contain Schroder, who easily weaved through the lane and around the baseline to keep the Hawks' passing game fluid. He finished with eight assists, and often made passes to set up assists.Lee, in his highest-scoring game as a Knick, hit his first eight shots and finished 11 for 14 from the field.Tim Hardaway Jr., in his first game back at Philips Arena since leaving Atlanta as a free agent last summer, scored 22 points.Dewayne Dedmon had 16 points and Taurean Prince and John Collins each scored 13 for the Hawks.TIP-INSKnicks: C Enes Kanter woke up with back spasms Friday and didn't play. Kanter, who averages 13.6 points and a team-high 10.2 rebounds, had started in all 17 of New York's games. Kyle O'Quinn started in Kanter's spot and had two points and six rebounds in 23 minutes. ... The Hawks showed a brief video tribute to Hardaway, who played the last two seasons with Atlanta, during a first-quarter timeout. Most of the resulting cheers came from several thousand Knicks fans in the building.Hawks: F Tyler Cavanaugh is proving worthy of extra minutes in a reserve role. The rookie from George Washington had eight points in 12 minutes. His putback against Willy Hernangomez put the Hawks up 93-89 in the fourth and then he added a left corner 3 to make it 98-89.UP NEXTKnicks: Visit Houston on Saturday.Hawks: Host Toronto on Saturday.___For more NBA coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball
  • When the credit card machines went down at Macy’s on Black Friday, chaos was inevitable. In recent years, the day after Thanksgiving has become known not for the deals, but for the fights that ensue when shoppers rush for those deals. >> Read more trending news The machines seemed to be down all over the nation, and angry shoppers flooded Twitter with their complaints as Macy’s worked to get its systems running again. It’s a particularly tough break for Macy’s, which is almost the unofficial retail sponsor of the holidays. It’s Thanksgiving Day parade has been a staple for generations, and every American of a certain age remembers watching “Miracle on 34th Street” in which Kris Kringle fills in for a drunken Santa at a Macy’s in Manhattan. In a statement to NBC, the company said, “It is taking longer than usual to process some credit and gift cards in our stores, but we had added additional associates to the floor who are working to resolve the issue as quickly as possible.” The news outlet reported problems in Washington, D.C.; Reno, Nevada; Chicago; New York City, Richmond, Virginia; San Diego; and across New Jersey. The company eventually took to social media in hopes of calming the tempers of some customers, asking them to send direct messages. CNN Money notes that Macy’s stock could have really used the boost from a blockbuster Black Friday; their revenue dropped 6.1 percent in the last quarter, which marks the 11th straight quarter in which they’ve experienced declines. A lot of that decline is probably due to customers moving online for shopping, but unreliable credit card machines definitely won’t help their image. This Black Friday has been no less eventful than those in previous years. Early in the morning, a brawl broke out in an Alabama store that caused the entire mall to shut down. Even more absurdly, four grown men were caught on video fighting over a toy car at Walmart. But, like always, the holiday has been a success for retailers, with TechCrunch reporting $640 million in sales at 7 a.m. on the West Coast. Unsurprisingly, a lot of that money changed hands online, and a large portion of transactions even occurred via mobile devices. Which means that while shoppers may have hit the brick-and-mortar stores, they were still buying on the web. Early estimates showed that sales were up over 18 percent from 2016, so with any luck, retailers made out big -- even though a few Macy’s locations are probably very, very disappointed.
  • Police are investigating after a mother of five was gunned down in front of her family. Justin Cox, 40,  is accused of shooting and killing Felicia Miller, 34, on Sunday at a home on Pin Oak Court in Marietta. Miller had five children. Cox is the father of her three youngest kids. Family members said Cox opened fire on Miller's car as she pulled into a driveway.  They said the victim's 4-year-old son is among those who witnessed the shooting. Police said Cox ran from the scene and was captured Monday in southwest Atlanta.  The emotional message from the victim's family on the Channel 2 Action News Nightbeat at 11.   “He took my angel from me.” Marietta woman shot & killed in front of her family. Felicia Miller, 34, had five children including the 18 month consoling her grandfather in this picture. Live @ 11. #Nightbeat pic.twitter.com/67c4MPFmu9 — Chris Jose (@ChrisJoseWSB) November 25, 2017   TRENDING STORIES: Woman found after disappeared while traveling to daughter's home for Thanksgiving Thousands in need get free holiday feast thanks to volunteers Man fixing tire at gas station killed on Thanksgiving morning  
  • A New York woman is dead after she was shot by a hunter who mistook her for a deer while she was walking her dogs on Wednesday evening. >> Read more trending news Rosemary Billquist, 43, lived near the border of New York and Pennsylvania and was shot just before 5:30 p.m. The shooter, identified as 34-year-old Thomas Jadlowski, heard her scream and ran to her. He applied pressure to the wound and called 911, The Buffalo News reports. Billquist was shot roughly 100 yards from her home. Authorities say that the shooting occurred after sunset, noting that it’s illegal to hunt at night in the state of Pennsylvania. Her husband, Jamie Billquist, told The Buffalo News that “they tried saving her [but] it was just too bad … It’s horrific. It will be with me the rest of my life.” He added, “She was always out to help somebody. She never wanted credit and was always quiet about it. She’s just an angel. An angel for sure.” Officials say that Jadlowski is cooperating with their investigation and that no charges have been filed yet. Rosemary Billquist was rushed to a University of Pittsburgh Medical Center hospital in Erie, Pennsylvania where personnel were unable to save her. Jamie was watching TV when an ambulance pulled into his driveway and a paramedic that he knew told him “we’ve got a gunshot wound,” and they ran to the field. Her husband rode with her to the hospital. Jamie recalled his wife as an avid athlete with a zest for life, estimating that she ran over 60 marathons. He says that he knows the Jadlowski family but said simply, “It’s a two-second decision that he’ll regret for the rest of his life.” If authorities do decide to press charges, Jadlowski will likely face involuntary manslaughter, which is defined in the Pennsylvania Penal Code as follows: A person is guilty of involuntary manslaughter when as a direct result of the doing of an unlawful act in a reckless or grossly negligent manner, or the doing of a lawful act in a reckless or grossly negligent manner, he causes the death of another person. Involuntary manslaughter is a first-degree misdemeanor and carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison.