What You Need to Know for 2017 Obamacare Enrollment

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It's time again to enroll for insurance coverage -- and the prognosis is for higher prices, fewer choices. Arm yourself with knowledge.

Higher rates and fewer choices await many who will buy their 2017 health insurance policies through the Obamacare exchanges beginning Nov. 1. So brace yourself, and read on.

Here are the key things you need to prepare for changes in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) at healthcare.gov or your state health insurance exchange.

1. Key dates for 2017 coverage

If you’re an American who gets health insurance through your employer (you’re among the lucky 60 percent), your boss should tell you about your workplace’s open enrollment period. However, for the 1 in 6 who buy their own medical insurance, these are the dates you need to know:

Nov. 1, 2016: Open Enrollment starts — first day you can enroll, re-enroll, or change a 2017 insurance plan through a health insurance marketplace. Coverage can start as soon as Jan. 1, 2017.

Dec. 15, 2016: The last day to enroll in or change plans for coverage to start Jan. 1, 2017.

Jan. 1, 2017: Coverage for the year starts for those who enroll or change plans by Dec. 15, 2016.

Jan. 31, 2017: Last day to enroll in or change a 2017 health plan. After this date, you can enroll or change plans only if you qualify for a Special Enrollment Period.

Special Enrollment is available mainly for people who experience major life events, including:

  • Loss of employer-sponsored health insurance coverage
  • Marriage or divorce
  • Birth or adoption of a child
  • Moving to a home in a new ZIP code or county

Some people can get free or low-cost health care through Medicaid or the Children’s Health Care Program (CHIP), which provide coverage to millions with limited incomes and disabilities, and have no enrollment period. See if you qualify at healthcare.gov.

2. Penalties

Getting insurance is required by law for many people.

The penalty for noncompliance is the greater of 2.5 percent of your adjusted gross income, or $695 per adult and $347.50 per child in tax year 2016. The amount for a household is capped at $2,085. The fee called the “individual shared responsibility payment” on healthcare.gov will be the same in 2017 and beyond, with adjustments for inflation.

If you lack coverage for only part of the year, the fee is prorated. For example, an individual who goes without health insurance for three months will be assessed 25 percent of the fee.

Those who owe the fee this year will have it assessed as part of their income taxes. Exemptions are available in certain situations, such as if you were without health insurance less than three months or the cost of the cheapest plan in your area exceeds 8 percent of your income.

3. Where to get coverage

If you’re eligible for insurance under the Affordable Care Act, go to healthcare.gov beginning Nov. 1. If your state has its own exchange, healthcare.gov will steer you there.

You can also call 800-318-2596 (be prepared to be on hold awhile) and have a representative complete your application over the phone.

Local organizations may help with the application and enrollment process. You can go to this page at HealthCare.gov to search for options in your area.

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