The deadline to enroll in new health insurance plans through the state Health Insurance Marketplaces is December 23 for coverage starting on January 1.

There are several ways to apply for coverage, including online at Healthcare.gov.  You can also apply in-person with an individual – sometimes called a navigator, application assister, or certified certified application counselor – who will provide free, expert help with the application and enrollment process.  Additionally, you can apply over the phone – 24 hours a day, 7 days a week – by calling 1-800-318-2596 or TTY 1-855-889-4325.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) allows millions of individuals to access quality, affordable health insurance through the state marketplaces. Families will no longer have to choose between medical care and other basic necessities, like food, housing, and education. Medical emergencies do not have to lead to financial instability or bankruptcy. And more people will be able to access preventive care and other services to help them stay healthy or care for themselves and their families when they are sick.

All new health insurance plans must cover essential benefits like hospitalization, ER visits, maternity and newborn care, mental health services, prescription drugs, and pediatric health services, including vision and dental care. Plans must also cover preventive services, without copays or coinsurance, even if you have not met your deductible. For women, that means no additional costs for well-woman visits, birth control, counseling and screening for STIs, and mammograms, among other services.

There are a few important things to remember.  No one can be denied coverage because of a pre-existing condition, and health insurance companies are no longer allowed to discriminate against women by charging them more for coverage than men. Financial help is also available to make health insurance more affordable. The federal government is offering tax credits to those who qualify to help them purchase health insurance through the state Health Insurance Marketplaces. Tax credits will be sent directly to the insurance provider of your choice. You can find out whether you qualify, and the amount of your tax credit, when you apply.

The enrollment period lasts until March 31, 2014, but you must enroll by December 23 if you want health coverage that will begin on January 1. Treat yourself this holiday – get covered and spread the word to your family, neighbors, and friends.

Media Resources: Healthcare.gov; Feminist Majority Foundation

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