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4 tips to help you enroll in Obamacare before the Dec. 15 deadline

·Senior Producer/Reporter

It’s open enrollment season on the health insurance marketplace — and picking a health plan can be really confusing. So in this week’s Payoff, I’ll show you how to shop for healthcare on the exchange and tell you what’s different about enrolling this year. Open enrollment goes through Jan. 31, 2017, but if you don’t want a gap in coverage or need your coverage to start the first of the year, Dec. 15, 2016 is your deadline.

“Simple Choice” plans offer easy side-by-side comparisons

To windowshop for plans, start at healthcare.gov and click on “Get Coverage.” At this point, you don’t need to put in all your information, like date of birth or Social Security number until you’re ready to enroll. While 39 states use the federal marketplace to sell insurance to their residents, the other 11 states plus the District of Columbia have their own exchanges. For a step-by-step guide through the federal exchange, check out the video above.

In previous years, comparing plans was a bit of a nightmare with different variables and metal categories. But this year, it’s easier because the federal marketplace asked all participating insurers to follow a template to view the same core benefits. By clicking on “Simple Choice” when previewing available plans, you’re now able to make an apples-to-apples comparison for premiums, deductibles and copayments.

A premium is the amount you pay for insurance every month. And a deductible is what you first have to spend – out-of-pocket – each year before the insurer pays for expenses beyond preventative care visits like annual physicals, well-woman visits and colonoscopies.

There are fewer insurers in 2017

Some insurance companies have withdrawn from the marketplace, leaving fewer plans available. In 2016, only 2% of enrollees had one insurer available. Next year, 21% will have just one option.

While there are fewer plans available, nearly 80% of marketplace customers will be able to choose between competing insurers, according to the Department of Health & Human Services. “If every returning consumer nationwide selected the lowest-cost plan within the same metal level they picked last year, average premiums paid (taking into account financial assistance) would fall by $28 per month — or 20% — compared to 2016,” a HHS representative said in an email.

You still have to pay a penalty if you’re not covered

The tax penalty for not having health insurance in 2017 is the same as 2016’s: the lesser of $695 or 2.5% of your household income. Payment will be made when you file your federal income tax return.

Most people still need help enrolling

There is free help available in your area over the phone and in person. Healthcare navigators won’t try to sell you anything, unlike insurance brokers who get paid by the insurance companies when they’ve signed people up.

Have any more questions? Email us or reach out to us on Twitter.

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