Now is the time to enroll for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act for benefits to begin Jan. 1.
For those signing up for ACA coverage for the first time, the deadline is Dec. 15 for benefits to begin at the start of the new year.
Enrollment is open through Feb. 15. But missing the Dec. 15 deadline means benefits won’t begin until March 1.
Find free help with enrollment through the Cabarrus Rowan Community Health Centers.
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For the second time this year, trained counselors at the Community Health Centers will answer questions and help people enroll and renew their health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.
Three counselors, one of them bilingual, will help people one-on-one by appointment through Feb. 15. The service is free.
According to HealthCare.gov, Dec. 31 is the end of the benefit year for people who enrolled in a 2014 Marketplace plan through the ACA.
To continue ACA health coverage beginning Jan. 1, people who are already insured must renew their plan.
“Those who applied last year should come and learn more about their choices with new plans and different prices,” said Cindy Walker, outreach and enrollment specialist at Cabarrus Rowan Community Health Centers.
Cabarrus and Rowan counties have expanded to three providers: Blue Cross Blue Shield, Coventry and United Healthcare. The process is much simpler now, with fewer questions, she said.
People who don’t have health coverage during 2015 may be subject to a fee that is significantly higher than in 2014.
The fee increases from $95 to $325, or 2 percent of income per adult, whichever is higher, Walker said.
It’s better to pay for insurance instead of paying the fee, Walker said, because it will come with health insurance benefits, including preventive care and chronic disease management.
Counselors helped hundreds of Cabarrus and Rowan county residents during the first enrollment period earlier this year, Walker said.
Among them were people whose workplaces didn’t offer health insurance, people who couldn’t get insurance because of pre-existing conditions and people who could not afford health insurance.
Under the ACA, people cannot be refused insurance because of a pre-existing condition. Subsidies are available to help lower the deductibles. Counselors can help determine whether people are eligible for financial aid because of their income and family status.
At the Community Health Centers, enrollment appointments last an hour to two hours, Walker said. Counselors sometimes meet with one person three or four times to find best options.