December 15 is the last day for consumers to sign up for Affordable Care Act health coverage that starts Jan. 1.
First-time Obamacare customers who miss the deadline will have to spend January without insurance. They’ll need to sign up for coverage by Jan. 15 for coverage that starts Feb. 1. The final day to enroll is Feb. 15.
People who signed up for 2014 coverage will be automatically re-enrolled in their existing plan if they don’t pick a new one by Dec. 15.
But consumers who allow themselves to be automatically re-enrolled are taking a risk, healthcare advocates say, because insurers adjust plan premiums and benefits from year-to-year.
“For some plans in which consumers enrolled last year the prices have gone up and for others they’ve gone down,” said Judy Clauser, project director for the Epilepsy Foundation of Florida, which received a federal grant of about $871,000 to help people sign up for coverage.
Clauser said consumers need to shop around to make sure they’re getting the plan that best meets their needs. That means looking beyond monthly premium prices, Clauser said, and making sure a plan’s deductibles aren’t too high and that it includes trusted healthcare providers in its network.
“It’s also important to make sure your income information is up-to-date because that’s how the government calculates your subsidy,” Clauser said.
In Florida, 85 percent of consumers can find coverage for $100 per month or less using federal financial assistance, said Pamela Roshell, Southeast regional director for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The precise deadline to enroll is 3 a.m. on Dec. 16.
Matthew Semensohn, 37, of Delray Beach didn’t wait.
Semensohn left his old job in January to work for a start up healthcare consulting firm. “I was on COBRA and I knew I needed to find my own coverage for next year,” Semensohn said.
Last week, he used the online brokerage eHealth.com to pick a bronze-level plan on the federal exchange.
“One catastrophic event like an accident or serious illness can lead you into bankruptcy,” Semensohn said.
About 1.38 million people nationwide have signed up for Obamacare plans since enrollment opened on Nov. 15.
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This article was produced in collaboration with Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent program of the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Consumers who want free, in-person assistance from a federally licensed navigator can set up an appointment with the Epilepsy Foundation of Florida by visiting www.efof.org or by calling 877-553-7453.