Shop around, experts advise health insurance consumers

     Tax penalties have increased for those without coverage and the costs of some plans have risen dramatically. (Image via HealthCare.gov)

    Tax penalties have increased for those without coverage and the costs of some plans have risen dramatically. (Image via HealthCare.gov)

    It’s open-enrollment time again for people who buy their own health insurance through the Affordable Care Act.

    Consumers have until the end of January to sign up for insurance, though to get a plan that begins on New Year’s Day, the last day to enroll is Dec. 15.

    If you’re one of the nearly 10 million Americans who have purchased coverage through the health care law, it is worth researching what’s available for 2016, even if a current plan meets your needs.

    “It is absolutely essential to shop around, because your plan might be one of the ones that went up dramatically, and there might be much better deals out there,” said Robert Field, a professor at Drexel University.

    The tax penalties for not having coverage ratchet up next year to $695 or 2.5 percent of household income for adults, whichever is higher. Subsidies bring down the cost of insurance to under $75 per month for most Americans.

    While there’s still strong opposition to the law in some corners, Field said “Obamacare” finally feels like the “new normal” for the health system.

    “We’re getting used to this being part of our health care landscape, and this time around, the government has certainly learned its lessons about technology,” he said. “A lot of consumers have learned lessons about how to shop, and so we are seeing things much calmer.”

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