The open enrollment period for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act (ACA or “Obamacare”) began Friday and continues through Dec. 15.

This signup period is for health insurance coverage starting Jan. 1, 2020.

The 2010 Affordable Care Act requires that residents maintain ACA compliant health insurance, but the penalty for not maintaining it was reduced to zero beginning this year.

Residents are still guaranteed insurable through the ACA and are encouraged to sign up for health insurance through it if they meet any of the following conditions:

• they don’t have health insurance through their employer or their spouse’s employer;

• they don’t have government coverage, such as veterans, Medicare and Medicaid;

• They are older than age 26 and can no longer be on a parent’s health insurance;

• they have current qualifying ACA coverage but may want to change their plan for 2020.

In addition to guaranteeing every American the right to buy health insurance, the ACA creates “marketplaces” (also called “exchanges”) to make that purchase more understandable and more affordable. These allow people to compare plans by benefits, price, provider participation and medication coverage.

The health insurance exchange for North Carolina, with details about various health insurance options and qualifying for tax subsidies that help offset premiums under the ACA, are at www.healthcare.gov.

Certified application counselors are available at the Wilkes County Health Department office on College Street in Wilkesboro to help people navigate the process of signing up for new health care coverage or renew existing coverage through the ACA.

This assistance is available at no cost to help people choose a plan that’s right for them or learn how to renew coverage under the ACA. More details on this help are available on the department’s Facebook page, Twitter account, at www.wilkeshealth.com or by contacting Wilkes Health Department Director Rachel Willard at 336-651-7449 or at rwillard@wilkescounty.net.

Consumer specialists within the N.C. Department of Insurance are also available to answer questions about health insurance during ACA Open Enrollment by calling 855-408-1212.

All plans offered through the ACA cover doctor visits, hospitalization, maternity care, emergency room visits, prescriptions and more. Through the ACA, financial subsidies to defray insurance costs are available to those who qualify.

There is at least one plan available in all 100 counties of the state and some counties have plans available from more than one insurer. Details on plans available in particular county also are at www.healthcare.gov.

Outside the open enrollment period, North Carolinians who buy health insurance from Healthcare.gov under the ACA may enroll in an insurance plan only if they qualify for a special enrollment period because of life events, such as having or adopting a child, losing health coverage or moving to a different service area.

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