Last call for consumers to purchase ACA coverage

The special enrollment period began Sunday for millions of Americans who did not yet purchase health coverage for 2015 and were hit with federal fines for not having insurance--but it's unclear how many people know that they can take advantage of the opportunity.

The enrollment window, open from March 15 to April 30, aims to give consumers a chance to purchase plans after they realized, while filing their taxes, that they have to pay a penalty for not having insurance, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said in a statement.

Research from the Urban Institute found that more than 40 percent of uninsured Americans remained unaware of the tax penalty, which increases from a minimum of $95 in 2015 to a minimum of $325 in 2015.

H&R Block said customers affected by the penalty have paid an average of $170, according to the Associated Press. Many of those paying the penalty are exactly the types of people the Affordable Care Act intended to help, the article said: The self-employed and low- and middle-income workers not covered by employer insurance plans.

To assist consumers during this special enrollment period, groups such as Enroll America and Families USA are doing what they can to make sure people know they can still purchase plans, according to The Hill. For instance, Enroll American is emailing pertinent sign-up links to 1.3 million consumers and scheduling in-person appointments so people can meet with experts to help them go through the process.

"It's a new experience for tax filers, it's a new experience for us," said Andy Slavitt, the acting administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), told reporters Friday, according to The Hill. "Our top priority is finding ways to help make these experiences as seamless as possible--acknowledging that it is the first time, though."

CMS announced the time frame for the special enrollment period last month, FierceHealthPayer previously reported. The announcement followed a Department of the Treasury estimate that as many as 6 million uninsured Americans faced the prospect of paying the tax penalty in the 2014 tax season, which ends April 15.

For more:
- here's the HHS statement
- read the Associated Press story
- check out The Hill piece