Open enrollment for the Affordable Care Act is underway

FILE - In this Oct. 6, 2015, file photo, the HealthCare.gov website, where people can buy health insurance, is displayed on a laptop screen in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The open enrollment period for health insurance coverage through the Affordable Care Act is underway. It began Nov. 1.

Online health insurance markets are now in their third year. This is for people who are enrolling for the first time or renewing their insurance.

It gives people who don’t have access to coverage through their jobs, Medicare, Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), or another source that provides qualifying coverage, an alternative.

Over the last few years, the law’s expanded coverage has helped cut the number of Americans who are uninsured to about 9 percent, a historical low.

There are some key dates and deadlines you need to remember now that enrollment is underway:

November 1, 2015: Open Enrollment started – first day you can enroll in a 2016 insurance plan through the Health Insurance Marketplace. Coverage can start as soon as January 1, 2016.
December 15, 2015: Last day to enroll in or change plans for new coverage to start January 1, 2016
January 1, 2016: 2016 coverage starts for those who enroll or change plans by December 15.
January 15, 2016: Last day to enroll in or change plans for new coverage to start February 1, 2016
January 31, 2016: 2016 Open Enrollment ends. Enrollments or changes between January 16 and January 31 take effect March 1, 2016.

People can apply for coverage four different ways:

  • Online at healthcare.gov
  • By phone
  • With in-person help
  • With a paper application

If you don’t have health coverage, you could be forced to pay a fee with your 2016 federal taxes. You’ll pay a penalty of either 2.5 percent of your income, or $695 per adult ($347.50 per child) — whichever is higher.

There are some exemptions. Click here for more information.

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