Obamacare Boasts 1.1 Million Enrollees: 5 Important Dates to Look Out For in 2014

In a dramatic, final-hour improvement, over 1.1 million Americans have now signed up for Obamacare, White House officials said Sunday. Almost a million of them enrolled in December alone, with a large surge coming in during the week the before the Christmas Eve deadline. Compared to the 137,000 enrollments in November, (or, more embarrassingly, the measly 27,000 in October), the numbers are looking like an 11th hour turnaround from its problem-plagued start. It's a rebound that could mean good things for those who want cheap healthcare in 2014.

The administration, at least, seems hopeful: “The basic structure of that law is working despite all the problems — despite the website problems, despite the messaging problems,” Obama told reporters before leaving for Hawaii.

But while all that seems great, the biggest test of Healthcare.gov is yet to come, of course. Here's an important timeline to keep in mind for 2014:

JAN. 1: The start of pretty much everything

Coverage begins on New Year's Day, so anyone who successfully signed up for insurance on their state's Marketplace by the Dec. 24 deadline (and has paid their first premiums) is now covered and can have their New Year's Eve hangovers checked out for free. And lots of low-income Americans who haven't before qualified for Medicaid can use it now, too. If you're enrolled, you will no longer be denied insurance for having “preexisting conditions,” like being a rape victim, and you won't be charged more for being a woman.

But wait, it's not all cookies 'n' meds: Jan. 1 also marks the countdown for the "individual mandate" — anyone who who doesn't have "minimum essential coverage" will be expected to pay a fine when they file their 2014 tax returns. (For this coming year, that's only going to be $95 or 1 percent of an individual's taxable income, whichever number is higher.) Since Obamacare is giving a three month grace period, the deadline for avoiding that penalty will be at the end of March.

JAN. 10: First payments due for the policies that took effect Jan. 1

Mark this one in your diaries: Almost any marketplace customer who signed up by the Christmas Eve deadline will have until only Jan. 10 to pay their first month's premium and make sure they're covered for any January medical bills. In some cases, insurers may have extended the deadline because of Healthcare.gov's technical issues, but be sure to check it out before assuming.

MARCH 31: Open enrollment ends

As mentioned before, March 31 is the last chance for most people to sign up through the federal marketplace, or the 14 states running their own exchanges, and avoid the penalty. Anyone whose preexisting health insurance was canceled because of Obamacare will be exempt from the fine, though, and if there are any other technical problems with the website that hamper the enrollment process, there's a good chance the administration might extend the enrollment period again.

Either way, the administration is hoping that by this date, new marketplaces would have roughly 7 million enrollees.

NOV. 15: Open enrollment for 2015 starts

The second-year start of enrollment was originally meant to be a month earlier, on Oct. 15. But moving it over by a month will give insurers until the end of May to analyze claims from the Affordable Care Act's first year, which could (hopefully) avoid premium increases. It also happens to be 11 days after Election Day, which some members of Congress (cough, Republicans, cough) haven't been too pleased about. Either way, come November, Americans will be able switch to a different plan and sign up for insurance for 2015.

2015: Employer mandate and individual penalties kick in

On Jan.1, 2015, employers with over 50 workers will have to pay a tax penalty of $2,000 per employee if they don't offer healthcare plans, the idea being that businesses will keep their existing health plans. Although this mandate was supposed to take effect in 2014, it was delayed by a year because of a worrying trend amongst small businesses — especially those in the service industry — that were firing their employees or making their staff work part-time in order to avoid having to offer health coverage.

Small businesses won't be the only ones who see possible penalties: By April 15, anyone who wasn't insured in 2014 will have to pay that $95 fine. If the same happens in 2015, that penalty will go up to $325 — by 2016, a person will have to pay $695 in fines for not being covered. So, everyone, it pays to mark your calendars.