Pick a health insurance plan or pay a penalty

Published: Jan. 13, 2016 at 12:11 PM CST
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Time is running out to sign up for medical coverage through the health insurance marketplace or pay a penalty.

The marketplace has changed since last year, but there is free help to guide you through the sign-up process.

If you have ever been treated in a hospital emergency room or had an overnight stay, you know that even with insurance, it's pricey.  Lake Area Medical Center business office director, Tracie Young, sees how massive the bills can be for patients paying out of pocket - to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars.

"When those things happen, you have to come to the hospital, it can cost quite a bit," said Young.  "If you have insurance, that insurance takes away most of that patient responsibility."

The law of the land now mandates that every American have insurance or pay a penalty.  January 31 is the deadline.

John Hood is a financial counselor at LAMC who helps walk uninsured people in our community through the government's health insurance marketplace.  

"People normally receive insurance through their job, but some employers do not offer insurance now," said Hood.  "Through the marketplace, you can obtain insurance that covers your basic necessities."

Insurance plan costs vary from person to person because they take into account where you live, your age, and income.  Just because you signed up last year does not mean you are covered into 2016.

"Some plans are not available that were available last year, so they will need to re-enroll and make sure that their plan is still available," said Hood.

Coverage can start as early as February 1 if you sign up this week.

"If you sign up before January 15, you will begin coverage effective February 1," said Young.  "If you sign up between January 15 and January 31, your coverage will begin March 1."

If you do not sign up by January 31, be ready to see your 2016 federal tax return change.

Penalties are $695 for adults, $347.50 for children, with a family limit of $2,085 or 2.5 percent of family income, whichever is higher.

You can sign up for health coverage on your own through healthcare.gov.

If you want the help of a financial counselor, there are two free enrollment fairs happening this week.    

*Wednesday, January 13 at Kroger Grocery on West McNeese Street in Lake Charles from 8:00 A.M. - noon.
*Friday, January 15 at the LAMC Grand Lake Clinic from 8:00 A.M. - noon.

You will need to bring a driver's license, proof of income, and your social security number.  Call 337-475-4004 for more information on signing up for health insurance.

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