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What You Need To Know As ACA Enrollment Begins

Courier-Post — Friday, November 14, 2014

Written by
Kim Mulford

Yes, it's tedious. It's complex.

But if you don't have health insurance, or even if you bought a non-group health plan last year, you need to pay attention.

The second open enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act starts Saturday. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, nine in 10 people without health insurance don't know that. And most don't know about significant financial assistance that's available to help pay for premiums. About 85 percent of people who bought plans last year received tax credits for 2014.

Indeed, public understanding is limited, said Cynthia Cox, a senior policy analyst for Kaiser Family Foundation.

"Significant challenges definitely lie ahead," said Cox, during a national online briefing for reporters earlier this week. The three-month enrollment period ends Feb. 15, 2015. But to secure coverage before Jan. 1, consumers need to select a plan by Dec. 15.

Shoppers need to update their financial assistance application at www.healthcare.gov, since the amount changes each year. Premiums and plans change, too, so even if you bought a plan last year and like it, you should compare prices for similar plans.

By the way, there are increased penalties in 2015 for those without coverage, but about 80 percent of the uninsured in 2014 may qualify for an exemption. Some exemptions can be claimed on your federal income tax form, but not all.

Kaiser analysts strongly advised consumers to visit the Marketplace website this month, update their financial information, and see what plans are available.

The nonprofit has been unable to analyze premiums for plans offered outside the Marketplace, but said they are generally comparable to plans offered through the federal exchange. However, tax credits are only available to those purchasing plans on the federal exchange.

Many people have expressed frustration over the problems with HealthCare.gov, but this Ohio man never gave up. After thousands of attempts, he finally signed up for his health insurance.

To help consumers figure out their options, the NJ for Health Care Coalition has launched a new website, CoverNJ.org.

The site offers a centralized location to help consumers find information, events, tips, and enrollment assistance throughout the state, said Maura Collinsgru, health care program director for New Jersey Citizen Action. Consumers can also use it to find language assistance and locations for in-person assistance.

Next month, the coalition expects to launch a mirror site in Spanish, and bilingual counselors are available to help enroll non-English-speaking residents.

In South Jersey, the Center for Family Services offers free assistance from federally trained and certified navigators in seven counties. Six of its 17 navigators are bilingual. Advice can be given over the phone, or in person by appointment.

The CoverNJ.org website will help consumers connect with one-on-one impartial assistance, said Robin Stockton, who directs the navigator program for the agency.

"The more consumers are aware of how, when and where they can get assistance to enroll, the better," Stockton said.

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