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Plan canceled? You can skip insurance in 2014.

In a further effort to placate consumers whose individual plans are being discontinued at the end of the year, last night the Obama administration sprung a surprise announcement that people in this category can skip having insurance in 2014 and not face a penalty for doing so.

The announcement also says that people with canceled plans can secure a hardship exemption that will enable them to enroll in special “catastrophic” plans that were intended to be available only to customers under the age of 30.

If you are in this category, the last thing you should do is go without health insurance, no matter how angry you are about losing your old plan. It’s unimaginably dangerous to your health and to your pocketbook. Even if you’re one of the relatively small (but highly vocal) number of people who are not eligible for a subsidy to lower the cost of your premium, and the best available coverage you can find costs more and/or is less generous than your old plan, it’s still not worth it.

Here’s what you should do instead.

Use our free online tool, HealthLawHelper.org, to determine whether you are, in fact, in line for financial help to get new insurance. And then registering on your state’s Health Insurance Marketplace and selecting a plan. If you want coverage in place by Jan. 1, you need to get this done by Dec. 23 at the latest, and you should pay your first month’s premium bill the minute you find out where to send the money.

What about the catastrophic plan option? These plans are the cheapest ones you can buy, but you can’t get financial help to pay for them, they will cover nothing before you meet the deductible except preventive care and three primary care visits a year, and the deductible is $6,350, the same as their out-of-pocket limit. It’s up to you to decide whether such a plan meets your needs.

Got a question for our health insurance expert? Ask it here; be sure to include the state you live in. And if you can't get enough health insurance news here, follow me on Twitter @NancyMetcalf.

Health reform countdown: We are doing an article a day on the new health care law until Jan. 1, 2014, when it takes full effect. (Read the previous posts in the series.) To get health insurance advice tailored to your situation, use our Health Law Helper, below.

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