Open enrollment has started for those who need to sign up for health insurance. This important, because having health insurance is now the law, and if you miss this enrollment period, you may have to wait another year and you will be financially penalized. Here’s everything you need to know about open enrollment:

1. The open enrollment deadlines have changed

Open enrollment starts Nov. 1, 2016. Previously, the deadline was on December 15. But the deadline has been pushed back to Jan. 31, 2017. Also, you should know that your coverage doesn’t start immediately.

  • If you sign up between Nov. 1, 2016, and Dec. 15, 2016, your coverage will start Jan. 1, 2017.
  • If you sign up between Dec. 16, 2016, and Jan. 15, 2017, your coverage will start Feb. 1, 2017.
  • If you sign up between Jan. 16 and Jan. 31, 2017, your coverage will start March 1, 2017.

People who qualify for Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) can enroll at any time of the year. These are state-federal programs for people with limited incomes or disabilities.

2. You are required by law to sign up for health insurance during open enrollment if:

  • You don’t have health insurance through your employer or your spouse’s employer.
  • You don’t have government coverage (such as veterans, Medicare and Medicaid)
  • You’re over age 26 and can no longer be on a parent’s health insurance.
  • You qualify for tax credits to help you pay for health insurance coverage.

3. If you already have a healthcare plan and you want to make changes, now is the time 

  • You can renew your current individual/family health insurance plan.
  • You can choose a new health insurance plan through the marketplace in your state or through private insurance.

4. Marketplace open enrollment is only for health insurance only

  • Open enrollment is not for life insurance or long-term care insurance. Those are completely separate products that you can buy on your own any time of year.
  • It’s also not for Medicare. The fall open enrollment period for Medicare is Oct. 15 to Dec. 7, 2016.

5. Penalties for not having health insurance increased in 2016

If you go without health insurance in 2016, the penalty is 2.5 percent of your income or $695 per adult (whichever is more) and the penalty for each child in the family without coverage will be up to $347.50. The maximum penalty is set at $2,085. For the 2017 tax year and beyond, the penalty will remain at 2.5 percent, but the flat and maximum amounts will adjust for inflation.

If you owe a penalty, it will be taken from your tax refund. Unlike nonpayment of child support or other activities, the federal law prohibits the government from garnishing your wages or filing liens to collect an insurance penalty.

7. All health plans must cover 10 essential benefits

All health plans, no matter the level, must provide some coverage for at least 10 essential benefits. They are:

  • Outpatient care including chronic disease management
  • Emergency care
  • Hospitalization
  • Pregnancy and newborn care
  • Mental health and substance abuse services
  • Prescription drugs
  • Rehabilitation services and devices
  • Lab tests
  • Preventive and wellness services
  • Dental and vision care for children

Use this calculator to determine in 30 seconds how much youd actually pay for a healthcare plan:

If you’re buying health insurance on your own, you have several options for purchasing a policy: either from your states health insurance marketplace (check Healthcare.gov to find yours); directly from a private health insurance company or your choice; or through a health insurance agent representing a private company.

So, now youve been given all the tools you need, including an extension. Do your health a favor, and sign up today!

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