Time for action. Stopwatch on white background. Isolated 3D imag

It’s here, the second open enrollment period is in process! It started on November 15 giving Americans another chance at buying affordable health insurance through federal and state-based health insurance exchanges. The second open enrollment period, which goes until February 15, 2015, will allow people to purchase new health insurance or renew older. The healthcare.gov SHOP exchange, tailored for the small business market, is also live, and if you work with an organization with 50 or fewer employees, you will have the option of purchasing insurance through this new exchange.

With so many options and ways to purchase health insurance, no wonder Americans are feeling overwhelmed with the information. Well, here are seven things you absolutely have to know to sail through the second open enrollment period.

1) Get ready with the right information – Amid rumors, news and opinions, there is an information overdose. If you are looking for a particular health plan, it is best that you start gathering information through print and online media already. As the enrollment period progresses, you will have too much information to discern the best pieces of it, so it is important to have some background ready for finding the best plan, knowing more about subsidies and other facets of the law.

2) Premiums could be higher this year – Unlike last year, there is a precedent for Obamacare health insurance premiums, and, unfortunately, some people might be in for a sticker shock. If you purchased health insurance last year, your health plan will be automatically renewing your plan unless you explicitly cancel it and choose a different one. The renewed health plan might not have the same premium as last time, as most Obamacare health plans have undergone premium revision. While the increases will be minor, in some states the difference could be substantial for people to reconsider their health plan.

3) Take account of change in Physicians and Hospitals – With Obamacare, some physicians and hospitals have elected to honor limited health insurance plans. Therefore, while you are renewing or selecting a brand new health insurance this time, make sure that you confirm with your preferred doctor and hospital whether they honor that health insurance. In case your health plan does not cover your preferred doctor-hospital combination, it would be better to select a health plan that does, or prepare for high out of network cost whenever you seek treatment.

4) Plan for future requirements – If you are at the cusp of a huge life change, like marriage or the birth of a baby, or an elective usage of the health system, like a preplanned surgery, it would be prudent to check if your health plan covers what you are planning for. Consulting agents and health plans about this is a smart way to approach this, and failing to do so could result in high out of pocket costs next year.

5) Prepare to get help from all useful sources – As the enrollment period progresses, licensed agents and brokers will be occupied with queries and calls concerning all the above. If you are purchasing health insurance for the first time from the exchange, it would be wise to get help from all useful sources as early as you can. Useful sources can range from friends and family members who have purchased insurance last year and can help you arrive at the right conclusion, to agents who can list down all the options that apply to you and then help you arrive at the best choice of the lot. For special communities, there are help forums where nonprofit firms help members of specific communities find and buy the best health insurance plan that meets their needs.

6) Check your coverage start date – Depending on the insurance plan you are purchasing, there will be a gap of two to six weeks before your insurance kicks in. When you are shopping for the plan that fits the bill, ensure that you keep an eye on your coverage start date and take the decision accordingly.

7) Time is running out – Last year, the first open enrollment extended from October 1 to March 31, a full 6 months. This year, however, open enrollment is only 3 months long. All the above activities will need time, and with the period cut in half, every resource will be stretched thin. Outside this window, you can only get health insurance if you go through a life event, such as marriage, divorce, etc. Needless to say, the time is running out and if you are looking for purchasing or renewing your health insurance, your time is now.

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