Federal health care enrollment starts Saturday | SierraSun.com

Federal health care enrollment starts Saturday

Staff report

TRUCKEE, Calif. — The three-month open enrollment period for coverage under the Affordable Care Act kicks off this weekend, with an increased penalty fee for those who don't sign up.

Enrollment starts Nov. 15 and runs through Feb. 15, 2015 — about three months less than last year's enrollment period. To have coverage starting Jan. 1, enrollment must be completed by Dec. 15.

Those who enrolled in 2014 will automatically be enrolled in the same plan in 2015 if no action is taken and the plan is still available.

Otherwise, a new plan can be selected through Covered California, the state's marketplace where individuals and small businesses can shop for coverage.

"Health care is regional, it's local, and it's personal. This means that the costs and options for each consumer in California are different," Peter V. Lee, executive director of Covered California, said in a statement. "The 'average' rate going up only 4.2 percent means that for some it will go up more and for some less, but all consumers now have the ability to shop.

"Consumers are not locked in to one plan; they can stay with their plan or change and can often find a lower-priced option."

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Covered California offers four insurance plan categories: Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum.

These categories offer the same set of essential health benefits such as emergency services, hospitalization and prescription drugs. The differences come down to monthly premium costs and one's deductible. Plans in higher metal categories have higher monthly premiums, but lower co-pays and deductibles.

Based on income, individuals can be eligible for either Medi-Cal — California's Medicaid program — or subsidized coverage.

Those who qualify for Medicaid or the Children's Health Insurance Program can enroll at any time.

Otherwise, after Feb. 15, 2015, health insurance for 2015 can only be obtained through a special enrollment period if one has a life-changing event such as marriage, birth or adoption of a child, or a loss of other health coverage.

Similar to a year ago, those eligible without coverage will have to pay a penalty. The difference is the fee is higher in 2015 — 2 percent of your income, or $325 per adult and $162.50 per child, whichever is more.

A survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 10.6 million people who signed up for coverage during the first open enrollment sought assistance.

Additional local assistance can be found through http://www.coveredca.com/get-help/local/.

Californians trying to enroll for coverage will be directed by the federal website to Covered California, at coveredca.com.