The first day of a new open enrollment period under the Affordable Care Act is Nov. 15 and lasts three months, through Feb. 15.
This time around, Central Texas consumers have 115 plans to choose from, up from 80 last period, and nine insurance companies are participating in this rating area. Rating areas are usually based on counties.
Certified application counselors like Nora Cadena with Insure Central Texas, a nonprofit that provides in-person assistance in four Austin and one Round Rock centers, says HealthCare.gov has one big improvement.
"You can now preview the health plans and prices before you even fill out an application," Cadena says. "You can window shop without commitment."
Qualifying people, based on their income, will need to commit to a plan at some point, if they don’t want to pay a tax penalty in 2015. It applies to most residents here legally who go 90 consecutive days in 2014 without health insurance.
Most people who bought a plan from the marketplace for 2014 will be re-enrolled, but can switch to another plan and are encouraged to shop around for other plans that may have lower premiums.
Consumers are also being asked to update their income information at HealthCare.gov because that determines how much money’s available in tax subsidies. Most individuals and families who earn a household income between 100 and 400 percent of the Federal Poverty Level, and who purchase a plan through the federal marketplace, are eligible for a tax subsidy that reduces the monthly premium.
A couple more things to know:
- In Central Texas, people can call United Way for Greater Austin at 2-1-1- with questions.
- Some of the vital documents people need to shop for a plan include a social security number, one's most recent tax return, proof of legal status for immigrants and a list of prescriptions. [Read Insure Central Texas' full list of suggested documents in this PDF.]