Nicola King from LifeWise Health Plan of Washington answered viewers' last-minute health insurance coverage questions, ahead of the March 31st enrollment deadline on Monday. Here are the main questions she tackled:

Can we apply for an extension?

Answer: Almost everyone who does not have health insurance through an employer must sign up for individual insurance by March 31 or pay a penalty. There are some people who are exempt from this requirement but you do have to meet specific criteria.There's also a range of hardship exemptions available to people, such as those who have been affected by a natural disaster. Learn more about these exemptions at There's also a form online you can fill out to claim an exemption.

What are the penalties if we don't sign up by the March 31 deadline?

Answer: The lowest penalty amount is around $95 per person, but if your household income is higher than $20,000, you could face a larger bill at the end of the year. For example, an individual earning $60,000 could face a penalty of around $500.

We received several questions asking what qualifies as income for determining eligibility for a subsidy, and how to determine the best plan for those who are self-employed or have variable incomes.

Answer: The best place to start with your income is your 2012 tax return. Have that handy when going to buy a health insurance plan. You'll also need some other financial information, such as:

  • incomes of everyone living in the household
  • interest payments on student loans
  • contributions to 401k/retirement plan

If your annual income increases within the year, you may be required to pay back a portion of any tax credit you originally qualified to receive. However, you can update your income information during the year, to avoid facing a big bill at tax time.

Please note: if you're concerned about making the monthly payments, you might want to consider a Bronze plan, as these generally have the lowest monthly rates. Bear in mind that choosing a plan with a low monthly rate means you may have to pay more out-of-pocket fees when you need medical care. The most any individual should have to pay toward care for the year is $6,350. Another way to keep costs down is to ensure your plan covers the doctors and medications used by family members. If you have any questions about your personal financial situation or whether a plan covers your family's needs, contact Washington Healthplanfinder or the health health plan providers you're evaluating, to receive more specific answers.

Question 4 - We've been asked by a number of parents whether they can keep their children on their plans once they turn 18.

Answer: You can keep your children on your plan until they turn 26, even if they don't live at home. There are a number of qualifying life events, such as having a baby or getting married, which allow you to purchase a plan even after open enrollment has closed.

Websites for more information:

Washington Healthplanfinder

LifeWise Health Plan of Washington

For questions about a LifeWise health plan specifically, call 888-304-0693 to get detailed information about treatments, therapies or procedures covered by LifeWise's individual and family plans.

Click here for a helpful last-minute guide to shopping for a health plan

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