When Is Open Enrollment 2017? 5 Things To Know About Signing Up For Insurance Through The ACA Marketplace

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Healthcare continues to come up in the news, but this time around, it's not for a no-good, very bad reason: Open enrollment  starts Nov. 1, 2017 and ends Dec. 15 for folks who buy their own health insurance. That gives you only 45 days to shop and purchase your health insurance plans if you don't get insurance through an employer. While the deadline has been extended to Dec. 31 for hurricane victims and Medicare enrollees, this is still a shorter time frame than previous years. Why? Because the Trump administration is quite keen to see the Obama's hallmark law, the Affordable Care Act, fail, and as such has cut the enrollment period from three months to 45 days, a decision that came earlier this year from the Department of Health and Human Services, as well as minimized advertising for this open enrollment season.

Why do we have open enrollment anyway? Why can't you sign up for health insurance anytime you want? Good questions. Open enrollment was created when Obamacare passed, and it's supposed to stabilize healthcare costs. Insurance works best when everyone pays into the same risk pool, regardless of health status. If there was no open enrollment or requirement for coverage, folks would likely only get insurance when they got sick or felt like they needed it for surgery. Risk pools need money from healthy people to cover the cost of folks who use their insurance often. But healthy people need insurance too. "Insurance is important for everyone, not just in a doomsday scenario, but to prevent one," Carolyn Witte, a women's health advocate and co-founder of the Tia App, tells Bustle. Many see this as socialism (which it's not), which is why the Republicans hate it.

In addition to the Republicans trying and failing to repeal Obamacare completely, the Trump Administration has already made changes to law, and they probably affect you. (Yes, you!) You may have heard that the Trump Administration rolled back the mandate for employers to include no-copay birth control in their healthcare plans. Additionally, last month, Trump signed an executive order that allows people to buy short-term health insurance that doesn’t comply with the ACA, weakening the enforcement of the individual mandate. Essentially, since Congress couldn't repeal or replace Obamacare, Trump is taking matters into his own hands.

But don’t despair or give up on getting health insurance because of all the misinformation out there. (That’s what this administration wants you to do.) It’s important to feel good about major purchases like health insurance. Before you go to healthcare.gov to choose an insurance provider, read this list to familiarize yourself with things you should know and look out for when shopping for health care insurance over the next 45 days.

Obamacare has not been repealed

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Much to Donald Trump’s chagrin, Obamacare is still the law of the land. That means you still can get a set of comprehensive benefits regardless of whether you have a preexisting condition. If you meet pre-determined income requirements, you can also get assistance from the federal government to help cover your insurance premiums, deductibles, and other out-of-pocket expenses. If you qualify for this assistance, it means you will be paying less money out-of-pocket for health insurance.

Most people are still required to have some kind of health insurance

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Despite Trump insisting that Obamacare is dead, the law is still in effect and still requires most households to have insurance or pay a fine that’s due at tax time. The fine for not having health insurance is either $695 or 2.5 percent of the taxpayer’s income — the government will take the higher of the two. You may be exempt from this requirement if you can prove that you cannot afford health insurance where you live.

If you get laid off from your job, you can still temporarily keep your employer's health insurance thanks to a federal law known as COBRA. It'll cost more though. You'll be responsible for monthly premiums and 2 percent of administrative costs.

Not having insurance can also get you into trouble with the IRS (Internal Revenue Service). The agency says it will start rejecting tax returns that don’t indicate whether the filer had health insurance.

Assess your needs and shop around

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Your health insurance should be most beneficial to your personal needs. Do you rely on health insurance to cover medical emergencies only? Do have a particular doctor or hospital you prefer to go to? Do you foresee a pregnancy or surgery within the next year? These are a few of the questions you should ask yourself while shopping around. Different plans have different coverage. You don’t want to get stuck paying too much for insurance, but you also don’t want to find out that your medical needs aren’t covered by the insurance you picked.

Witte says millennial women should pay particular attention to birth control when shopping around for health insurance. “Some plans may cover Kyleena but not Mirena," which are two different kinds of IUDs. "It’s important to understand the nuances of birth control coverage,” she tells Bustle.

Budget according to your health care needs

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The average individual health insurance premium is $393 this year, and the average deductible for an individual is $4,328. That's just an average though — your costs may differ based on your specific needs.

Witte advises women to know the difference between high and low deductible plans. “If you have a chronic disease, a low deductible with higher monthly premiums plan may be better,” Witte tells Bustle.

A deductible is the amount an individual has to pay out of pocket before their insurance kicks in, while a premium is the amount you pay for insurance each month. (You can find a glossary of confusing terms at healthcare.gov.) If you know that you go to the doctor and have procedures regularly, a lower deductible will be a better deal for you.

Monthly premiums are increasing across the board. Thanks to the Trump Administration’s decision to cut cost-sharing subsidies, some folks will see their premiums increase by double digits, but you can still compare health care plan costs using tools like nerdwallet and QuoteWizard to work out the best deal for you.

Consult resources to make purchasing health insurance less confusing

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Health insurance is confusing, and it has been especially confusing this year. There are many resources out there geared specifically towards women trying to figure out what health insurance plan is best for them. One those resources is the newly-launched Vagina Benefits. Vagina Benefits is brought to you by the same people who created the Tia App — a personal women's health advisor — and is an interactive informational tool designed to equip anyone with a vagina with knowledge about their reproductive and sexual healthcare rights, what’s at stake, and what they can do to protect those rights. With laws seemingly changing day-to-day, Vagina Benefits keeps its users up-to-date on the latest happenings.

Remember, figuring out which health care plan is best for you isn’t impossible. It just takes some research and shopping around.