As you may already know, under the Individual Mandate part of our new health care laws, you can be charged a penalty on your taxes if you fail to enroll in a health insurance policy. In 2016, the penalty is set to increase sharply from the relatively small fees imposed last year. Those who fail to select sufficient health care coverage can be charged up to $2,085, or 2.5 percent of their income (whichever is higher).

During the past two years, many people were not aware of the Individual Mandate, or had trouble enrolling in a health insurance policy. Aware of these problems, the federal government operated a special enrollment period for people affected by these circumstances. If these people signed up for health insurance by April 15, they were granted leeway and were not charged a penalty on their tax return.

Last year, fewer than 144,000 people nationwide took advantage of that special enrollment period. Perhaps the numbers were low because very few people knew about the special enrollment period, or maybe most people had already decided whether or not they intended to comply with the law. Whatever the reason, the federal government has eliminated the special enrollment period for 2016. Most people are aware of the law by now, and the regular health insurance enrollment period should provide enough time for everyone to make their decision.

What does this mean for you? If you don’t already have health insurance, you have until January 31 to sign up for coverage. Otherwise, you can be charged a penalty for failing to enroll in a policy. There won’t be second chances or extended enrollment periods this year. Those who fail to enroll in health insurance will have to wait until the regular open enrollment season, starting in November 2016.

Remember: Enrolling in health insurance protects your family from high medical bills, and protects you from paying the Individual Mandate tax penalty. Call our office for more details on selecting your health insurance policy. It’s easier than you think, and with many Californians receiving subsidies to help with the cost of their premiums, it might also be cheaper than you imagined.