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How hard can signing up for a health plan be? Surely there’s time to figure out your options for Affordable Care Act coverage and choose a plan by Dec. 15.

While it might sound simple, there are a lot of things to consider as you make your choices for health coverage for 2017. It’s a good idea to get started before the mid-December deadline rolls around.

“There are a lot of things you need to be aware of, like making sure the doctors and pharmacies you want are in the plan that you choose,” says Bruce Allen, director of individual (under age 65) and small group plans for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina. “You don’t want to be making big decisions like these at the last minute.”

 

What the Dec. 15 Enrollment Deadline Means

The deadline of Thursday, Dec. 15, applies to anyone wanting coverage to be in effect starting Jan. 1, 2017. Whether you’re a new or returning ACA customer, you’ll need to enroll by Dec. 15.

You may choose to purchase through the federal Health Insurance Marketplace, BCBSNC or your local health insurance agent.

If you enroll between Dec. 16 and Jan. 15, 2017, your coverage will start Feb. 1, according to marketplace rules. The final day to enroll for 2017 coverage is Jan. 31, 2017, unless you qualify for a Special Enrollment Period.

The enrollment deadline is only part of the deal. Your coverage won’t begin until you’ve made your first payment. You should make your first payment by Dec. 15 to help ensure that your ID card arrives in the mail in time to use it starting Jan. 1.

After signing up, you’ll make your premium payments directly to your insurance company, even if you applied for coverage on the marketplace.

 

What to Consider for 2017 Coverage

As you shop for the right plan for you and your family, it’s important to know what to look for. Specifically, these are the big choices you’ll face:

  • Premiums: The premium is your monthly fee for insurance coverage. It’s what many people want to know right off the bat when choosing a health plan.
  • Network: This includes the doctors, hospitals and pharmacies that are covered by your plan. You save the most money when you see a provider in your plan’s network.
  • Copayments, Deductibles, and Coinsurance: Each plan has a different set of options for yearly deductible, copayment and coinsurance choices. These determine how much you’ll pay for care out of your own pocket.
  • Metallic Level: The metallic levels of plans reflect the value of your coverage. Each plan level covers a different amount of your medical costs.
  • Subsidies: A subsidy is financial aid from the federal government to help pay health insurance premiums. You may be eligible for a subsidy if you purchase through the Health Insurance Marketplace. As you apply, you’ll enter your household income and then find out if you’re eligible for a subsidy. (Only the federal government can determine this.)

Making wise choices for you and your family is important. By starting early and weighing your options, you can avoid the stress that comes from simply hearing the term “Dec. 15 deadline.”

About Kyle Marshall

Kyle Marshall, a senior communications specialist at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina, writes about the health care industry and provides communications counsel and support to the company's executive team.