Obamacare Open Enrollment: 3 Must-Know Facts for Year 2

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Open enrollment for health insurance through the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act runs from Nov. 15 through Feb. 15. Here are a few things you need to know to make sure you get the best deal that's available to you.

1. You're Not Stuck With Your Initial Plan

Those who are satisfied with the current coverage typically don't need to do anything to keep that coverage, as their insurance company will automatically renew their policies if they don't hear differently. But under certain circumstances, it makes a lot of sense to look at other options.
  • If your health has changed dramatically, then it might make sense to look at more comprehensive insurance plans. You'll pay more in up-front premiums for higher-quality plans, but your out-of-pocket costs will typically be lower. You'll have to run your own numbers to figure out which way leaves you ahead.
  • Even if nothing has changed with you, you need to make sure that your plan didn't change. In some cases, you'll notice higher copayments and deductibles or more restrictive health-provider network choices that no longer fit your needs.
2. Penalties for Not Having Coverage Will Go Up in 2015

The Act's cost structure was designed around the idea that it would get as many people as possible covered by health insurance, and paying for coverage. The bigger the pool of insured, the better it works for everyone. So the law penalizes those people who don't buy qualifying insurance. During 2014, that penalty was limited to the greater of 1 percent of your income above the Internal Revenue Service filing threshold, or $95 per adult plus $47.50 per child within the household, up to $285 for an entire family. That may have gotten some attention, but for many people, it wasn't enough to justify paying the costs involved in getting an health insurance.

For 2015, those penalties are on their way up. The percentage amount doubles to 2 percent of income over the filing threshold, and adults will have to pay $325 and kids $162.50, up to a family maximum of $975.

That larger amount still won't be enough to get everyone to enroll, and exemptions consider factors like income, financial condition and other hardships. Nevertheless, government officials expect to emphasize the penalty more during this open enrollment period to encourage more people to participate.

3. Consider Your Obamacare Subsidy in Your Total Cost

One of the most attractive elements of the health insurance exchanges under Obamacare is that the federal government subsidizes premiums depending on your income level. Yet because income can change from year to year, your insurance company might only tell you what your gross premium before subsidies is, and that could leave you thinking that your rates just went up by a huge amount, when they haven't really.

Subsidies are based on how your income compares to the federal poverty level. In general, the more you earn, the more you're expected to pay for your own coverage, and the less of a subsidy you'll receive. Caps for how much of your income you'll pay range from 2 percent for those making less than 133 percent of the federal poverty level to 9.5 percent for those earning up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level.

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Obamacare Open Enrollment: 3 Must-Know Facts for Year 2
A year ago, in response to a Reddit thread titled "What is Obamacare and what exactly did it change," one user put together an exhaustive post that explains pretty much everything about Obamacare. While some of its answers are a little out-of-date, it is incredibly complete, and regularly links back to the original Obamacare legislation. For most Obamacare questions, it's the first -- and best -- site.
Unfortunately, for all its completeness, the Reddit explanation isn't the most interesting read. If you want something a little more diverting, you may consider taking a peek at Obamacare: Explain It Like I'm Five. Basically, this cartoon explains Obamacare like a playground argument, a he said/she said battle between insurers and average people, with Obama running interference in the middle. As an added plus, the website also lists 24 bullet points covering most of the things that Obamacare will change.
If you want something a bit more scholarly, Obamacare Exchanges Open: The New Law Explained in Seven Easy Steps uses President Obama's own words to explain several main points of the plan, answering questions about how it will affect health care costs, how it will impact small businesses, and the positive effect that it may have on family finances. And, for those who like bullet points, the White House has put together a list of their own.
Speeches and bullet points and detailed explanations are all well and good, but if you're one of those people who likes to get their weighty explanations with a spoonful of sugar, The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation's new video, "The Youtoons Get Ready for Obamacare" does a great job of explaining most of the ins and outs of the new law. It's hard to find a better ground-level understanding of how the new law will affect your life.
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