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In the coming days, you will have another opportunity to sign up for affordable health insurance and the financial security that brings for 2015.  Whether you or someone you know signed up for coverage last year or you are shopping for health insurance for the first time, November 15 is an important day.  That’s the first day of a three-month period called “Open Enrollment” when you can renew your coverage or pick a new plan. 


If you already have insurance through your employer, Medicare, TRICARE, or some other source, you can keep that coverage and you are not required to buy additional insurance.  In fact, it is against the law for someone who knows that you have Medicare to sell you a plan from the Health Insurance Marketplace.  The Affordable Care Act has improved benefits for Medicare beneficiaries in a number of ways.  Now, seniors on Medicare can get preventative services like mammograms and colonoscopies and an annual wellness visit for free, and their prescription drug costs have been greatly reduced as the “donut hole” in coverage is closed.


Prepare for Enrollment


So what can you do now to get ready?  If you are one of the approximately 7.1 million people who signed up for coverage last year and stayed enrolled, you should review your current plan to make sure it still meets your healthcare needs.   Watch your mail for a letter from your plan describing any changes, contact your insurer with any questions, and write down your 14-digit plan ID, which you will need when you go back to shop in the Health Insurance Marketplace.  You can also visit healthcare.gov to begin “window shopping” for health insurance.  Information such as plans and estimated premiums will be available to viewing, though keep in mind that this information may not take into account all of your personal circumstances.


Beginning November 15, you should visit healthcare.gov and log into your Marketplace account, or, if this is your first time shopping in the Marketplace, you can set up an account.  If you had coverage last year, your application will be pre-filled with your information.  You should check and update your personal information, such as income, household size, and contact information.  Even a small change could affect the size of your premium tax credit that helps pay for your insurance and the cost of your monthly premium. 


Compare Options


You now have the chance to compare 2015 plan costs and benefits and select the plan that works best for you.   A new plan may be available, or premiums may have changed.  You can search for your current plan using your 14-digit ID.  Depending on your income and your access to other affordable health insurance, you may be eligible for premium tax credits and other subsidies that will help pay for your premiums.  More than 8 out of 10 people who signed up last year qualified for federal subsidies to help pay premiums and the subsidies lowered the cost of their coverage by an average of 76%. 




Here’s another date to circle on your calendar: December 15.  That is the deadline by which you need to select a plan in order to have health coverage starting January 1, 2015.  If you bought health insurance through the Marketplace last year and do nothing, you will be re-enrolled automatically in the same coverage on December 15 as well.  But this plan may not be your best option for 2015 and your costs may have changed, so you should visit the Marketplace as soon as possible to get the best deal for you.  If you don’t make this deadline for New Year’s Day coverage, you still have another two months until February 15 to change or select a plan through the Health Insurance Marketplace. 


There are a number of community organizations that are offering free help to sign up for health coverage.  If you live in or near Travis County, there are several Insure Central Texas Enrollment Centers open 7 days a week; for a list of locations and hours, click here. For a full listing of places near you to get enrollment assistance, click here and enter your zip code or city.


I hope that the information I provide here is helpful to you. I also encourage you to get information about the Affordable Care Act from objective sources like the AARP, American Heart Association, American Diabetes Association, and American Cancer Society. Armed with the facts, you will be able to make informed health care decisions for you and your family.