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The Healthcare.gov website on a computer screen. Open enrollment at the Healthcare.gov website began Nov. 1. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
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Democratic congressional candidate Mary Headrick poses for a photo in the Times Free Press studio on Wednesday, July 2, 2014, in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Don't delay!

Open enrollment for 2018 Affordable Care Act Marketplace health insurance (some call it Obamacare) began Nov. 1 and ends Dec. 15. Less than 40 days remain for enrollment since the federal site, healthcare.gov, closes on Sundays and we'll all be busy on Thanksgiving.

That means time will fly by while many don't know the deadline or, in confusion, believe the ACA is dead. It's not.

The Affordable Care Act is still the law of the land and the ACA marketplace has plans offered by BlueCross BlueShield.

But even local people with 2017 marketplace plans will need to apply again for the 2018 coverage since insurers and plans in the area changed.

If you or someone you know needs affordable health insurance for 2018, here's what you need to know:

-Open enrollment is Nov. 1-Dec. 15, except Sundays.

-Call toll free 844-644-5443 with questions or to arrange free help to enroll.

-Go online at healthcare.gov to enroll yourself or window shop.

-Enroll by phone by calling 1-800-318-2596 (TTY: 1-855-889-4325) anytime.

For 2018, BCBS of Tennessee offers four marketplace plans to residents of Hamilton and surrounding counties. Income, age and tobacco use determine a person's monthly insurance premium payment. Based on income, expect 87 percent of enrollees to have some premium tax credits and 67 percent of enrollees to have other additional cost savings to help with affordability.

Don't ignore the deadline if you are uninsured. Many applicants are pleasantly surprised by the affordability after tax credits. Some learn they are TennCare eligible.

If people fail to have health insurance coverage, then they may be charged a penalty of 2.5 percent of income or $695 per uninsured person, a penalty collected through the IRS. Some applicants may learn the insurance is personally unaffordable. However, applying is the path to seek a penalty exemption.

Individuals who miss the Dec. 15 deadline may lose coverage for 2018 and may incur a penalty.

While costs are going up, so are the plan subsidies offered to help moderate income families pay. For example, individuals earning just over $12,060 a year may qualify for significant tax credits and subsidies, meaning some will pay zero dollars in premiums.

The Affordable Care Act remains popular and effective. More than 200,000 Tennesseans are enrolled. The number of people with health insurance in Tennessee is at a record high. Families are experiencing a new level of security with health care coverage.

This enrollment season could offer even more Tennesseans an opportunity to enroll in health insurance, but the application deadline is approaching.

Please spread the word that local help is available. The ACA is still the law of the land.

Mary Headrick M.D. is a Certified Application Counselor and a volunteer with the Tennessee Health Care Campaign. She lives in Union County and helps people enroll in the ACA marketplace.

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