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Affordable Care Act

Still Shopping For Insurance?

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The deadline to buy health insurance for the New Year is approaching fast. 

If you’ve waited until now to start shopping on the federal health insurance exchange, know you may not have coverage starting Jan. 1, the official start date of the Affordable Care Act mandate. The deadline to buy policies for coverage effective Jan. 1 is Dec. 23.

But know all is not lost. You still can shop up through March before any penalties will be imposed for not meeting the new requirement that most Americans buy health insurance policies.

The exchange – best known by its glitch-ridden healthcare.gov website – is the key place Floridians can go to see plans and compare benefits and prices. And it’s technically available around the clock.

But it’s not the only way to look for the best plan for you, your family and your health. While the federal exchange is the only place you may apply for or earn subsidies, it’s not the only way to apply. Here’s the breakdown:

·         Online: Healthcare.gov

·         By phone: (800) 318-2596, lines open 24 hours a day

·         In person via an application counselor or licensed navigator. Government-trained counselors are available across the state, able to help decipher the application process, including possible premium subsidies based on household income. Visit the local help guide at www.localhelp.healthcare.gov and punch in your zip code for a list of resources.

·         In person via an independent insurance agent. Health plans on the federal exchange are commercial policies, and insurance agents familiar with them counsel consumers free of charge. (They get commissions from insurance companies for policies they do sell.) Some of these agents also receive additional training on the exchange, and its rules regarding subsidies.

To get a list of local, independent agents, visit the National Association of Health Underwriters’ find-an-agent page at http://www.nahu.org/consumer/findagent2.cfm. Be sure to explain you’re wanting to only shop for policies available via the exchange.

Remember to gather the information you need ahead of time: names of the people in your family needing coverage, their ages, and proposed income for 2014 (or their previous year’s pay). You also need to know if each family member uses tobacco.

These details are especially important if you think you might qualify for monthly premium subsidies available to households earning up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level. That translates to almost $46,000 a year for an individual and $94,000 for a family of four.

If you want to get a better idea of whether you qualify, check out the Kaiser Family Foundation’s subsidy calculator: http://kff.org/interactive/subsidy-calculator/

And as for the penalties you might face in the first year, expect to pay $95 or 1 percent of your annual income, whichever is largest.