Open health insurance enrollment for children starts today

Parents or guardians needing health insurance for their children have from Sept. 15-Oct. 31 to enroll them in an individual health plan.

"If you want health insurance for your kids, apply early," said Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler. "Waiting to apply can delay your coverage. If you experience difficulty or have questions, call our Insurance Consumer Hotline at 1-800-562-6900 or file a complaint online."

Federal health reform prevents health insurers from denying coverage to children with pre-existing health conditions. However, just like employer-sponsored health plans, the insurers can create open-enrollment periods. During these times, children under age 19 do not have to complete a health questionnaire and cannot be denied health insurance because of a pre-existing condition.

The open enrollment periods apply to all health plans in the individual market. People buying individual plans don't have access to employer-sponsored health plans or their employer doesn't cover dependents.

If you miss the open enrollment period and need coverage for your child right away, you can apply either to the Washington State Health Insurance Pool (WSHIP), or if you qualify, to the new Pre-existing Condition Insurance Plan (PCIP-WA). To enroll in PCIP-WA, you must have been uninsured for at least six months and have a pre-existing medical condition.

Exceptions where you can apply for individual coverage for your kids anytime include the birth or adoption of a child or if a child or the parent:

• Is no longer eligible for a state program.

• Loses coverage due to a divorce.

• Loses employer-sponsored coverage (including COBRA).

• Moves and their plan is not available where they now live.

The next open enrollment period is March 15-April 30. Open enrollment periods for children end in 2014 when the full federal health reforms take effect and insurers cannot deny anyone coverage because of a pre-existing medical condition.

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