Open enrollment period for Affordable Care Act begins: What you - WMBFNews.com, Myrtle Beach/Florence SC, Weather

Open enrollment period for Affordable Care Act begins: What you should know

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - Open enrollment for the Affordable Care Act started Saturday and the deadline is February 15 for this second round of health insurance. This is the option the government has created to give people who do not have insurance through their employer or Medicare/Medicaid to get insured.

Last year, the fines were waived. This year, if you do not enroll by the February deadline, you have to pay two percent of your income or $325 per adult and $162 per child, whichever option is greater. There are still more than half a million people in South Carolina who do not have insurance, so insurance agencies are expecting a massive response. Especially since the government says this time around, the website has been streamlined and it should be easier to enroll.

There are things you need to consider before signing up for a plan. Figure out your budget first, then choose a plan. Do not choose a plan based on fringe benefits that you can't afford. "Be sure and look for things like making sure things like all of your doctors are on the plan,” says Johanna Haynes, CareTeam CEO. “All of your medications are on the plan. Because I think sometimes some folks go, 'Oh that one will provide me glasses so I'll do that one.' And then their doctor is not on the plan. And then they're involved in something that they have to change doctors for."

Also, when you enroll, you have to put down an income that is within the last 90 days, not from the past year. So have that ready to help speed things along. You may notice some changes with plans and premiums. A study by Pricewaterhouse Coopers suggests premiums will be up more than 5 percent. And the Obama administration says you will have more choices this year, which could mean lower-cost options.

This year, the Affordable Care Act really does affect every single American in one way or another. If you don't pay attention to it now, you could be paying for it later. If you don't have insurance, you need to sign up. If you do have insurance, you need to prove that.

If you signed up for insurance with the Affordable Care Act last year, you still have to re-enroll this time. It won't do it automatically for you. If you didn't sign up last year and squeaked by without the fine, that's not an option this year. You have to enroll or you will be fined. And if you have the option of insurance through your employer, you need to make a choice and prove you are insured. Because of the ACA, your employer-provided insurance must give you the option to continue with their insurance or not. So be sure to check those emails you're getting from Human Resources, because there should be crucial information in there on how to make your choice and your deadline. You will not just automatically re-enroll this year.

But according to local experts, there is a group of people that in the state of South Carolina they will not be able to apply for the benefits of the ACA no matter what. "South Carolina has refused to implement the Medicaid expansion law,” says Haynes. “And in the Affordable Care Act, the Medicaid expansion is the provision to take care of the poorest people. So if you have no income at all, you do not qualify for insurance in the marketplace exchange."

If you qualify and are planning on signing up, you'll do it through the website healthcare.gov. Many people are still anxious after all the drama, glitches and inefficiencies last year. But experts say that people need to just give it a try first. Make it a point to try and sign up early so that you're not cramming online with a bunch of procrastinators in February.

If you do hit a snag or need some help, it's very easy to find. There are a lot of local offices that will direct you. You just have to go online to healthcare.gov, click on find the "local help" tab, and put in your zip code.

Blue Cross Blue Shield will be holding help sessions for open enrollment. Agents will drive a bus down to Doctor's Care Strand (1220 21st Avenue North). They will be available on December 1-4 from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. to help answer your questions and help you sign up for the best plan that suits your needs.

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