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Obamacare Enrollment: What You Need to Know

Topics: Current Events

Last year, Obamacare, formally called the Affordable Care Act, helped 10 million Americans sign up for health insurance. Being insured is now a requirement, so it’s important to be sure your coverage is all set for 2015. If your employer provides your insurance, nothing has changed and no action is required on your part. Just keep doing what you have been doing. But, if your employer doesn’t offer health insurance, (or if you’re a freelancer, or currently between jobs,) enrollment is a great option to get the coverage you need.

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(Photo Credit: Kevin Bedell/Flickr)

Here’s what you need to know to get started.

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Where to Start

Depending on where you live, you will enroll through your state’s exchange, or through the federal marketplace. Either way, or the federal call center, 1-800-318-2596, will connect you with information about the right starting place for weighing your options. Marketplaces vary by state, and it can be confusing to determine which options are available to you in your location. If you don’t have much luck with the above resources, The National Academy for State Health Policy has a helpful list that can help you find the right website.

“There are two big advantages to using the online marketplace,” write the editors of Consumer Reports, which released a buying guide and insurance comparison engine. “One, you can make side-by-side, ‘apples-to-apples’ comparisons of all the available plans, and use an online calculator to find the best buy. Two, you may qualify for an up-front discount in the form of a tax credit to help pay for your premiums, and you might also get help with your out-of-pocket costs.”

If you signed up last year, you will be automatically re-enrolled in your plan, but it is still recommended that you look at the options again rather than default to that. If your circumstances have changed, it will impact your subsidy eligibility. Similarly, your subsidy might not go as far this year, even if your cost doesn’t go up. Also, there are more options this year, so you are likely to find a better deal this time around.

When to Start

Enrollment is open from November 15 to February 15. However, if you want your coverage to start in January, you’ll need to sign up by December 15. Last year, the enrollment period was six months long, and this year it is only three. After this period passes, enrollment will not be available again for 2015.

However, if you lose your existing coverage, have a baby, or experience certain other life events, you can qualify for a special enrollment period allowing you to sign up. Some programs, like Medicaid and The Children’s Health Insurance Program, are open year round.

Why You Should Sign Up

Concern about cost stopped some from enrolling last year. But, cost varies depending on your income bracket and the level of healthcare plan you select. Jason Milman of The Washington Post discusses this in his recent piece:

People earning between 138 percent of the federal poverty level and 400 percent FPL ($16,105 and $46,680, respectively, for an individual) can qualify for financial assistance to purchase coverage. And the lower the income, the greater the subsidy.

If you earn below 250 percent of the federal poverty line, you can also qualify for help with out-of-pocket costs as long as you purchase a ‘silver’ plan on the marketplace. The silver plans, which cover 70 percent of a person’s health-care costs, were the most popular plans sold on the marketplaces last year.

This might be more affordable than you think. And, the peace of mind you’ll receive from knowing that you’re covered has a value, too.

Tell Us What You Think

Will you take advantage of the Affordable Care Act this year? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

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