As we approach Open Enrollment for the Marketplace there is a major change effecting health care coverage through HealthCare.gov that many Oklahomans will want to know about: The Open Enrollment period is shorter than prior years, starting on Nov. 1 and ending on Dec. 15. New enrollees may want to set up a Marketplace account this month for a faster/easier application process in November or December.

If you haven’t applied for insurance on HealthCare.gov before, here’s what you need to know about the Health Insurance Marketplace (sometimes known as the health insurance "exchange").

1. The Health Insurance Marketplace is for people who don’t have health coverage

If you don’t have health insurance through a job, Medicare, Medicaid (SoonerCare), the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), or another source that provides qualifying health coverage, the Marketplace can help you get covered.

If you have job-based insurance: You can buy a plan through the Marketplace, but you’ll pay full price unless your employer’s insurance doesn’t meet certain standards. Most job-based plans do meet the standards.

If you have Medicare: You can’t switch to Marketplace insurance, supplement your coverage with a Marketplace plan, or buy a Marketplace dental plan.

2. What you pay for insurance depends on your income – and you’ll probably save

Your savings depend on your expected household income for the year. Over 8 in 10 people who apply are eligible to save, and most can find plans for $50 to $100 per month (after accounting for savings).

You can go to HealthCare.gov and get a quick idea if you'll save. Based on your income estimate, they’ll tell you if you qualify for:

A health insurance plan with savings based on your income. You may qualify for a premium tax credit that lowers your monthly insurance bill, and for extra savings on out-of-pocket costs like deductibles and copayments. The plans are offered by private insurance companies with a range of prices and features. Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP)

Medicaid and CHIP provide free or low-cost coverage to millions of people and families with limited income, disabilities, and some other situations.

Your children may qualify for CHIP even if you don’t qualify for Medicaid.

3. You can apply for coverage 4 ways

Applying on HealthCare.gov is easier than ever, and many people can apply, pick a plan, and enroll in a single sitting. You can apply any way that works for you:

Online By phone With in-person help (check www.chcneo.com/enrollment) With a paper application

4. 2018 Open Enrollment runs from November 1, 2017, through December 15, 2017

Plans sold during Open Enrollment start January 1, 2018.

After December 15, you can enroll in 2018 health insurance only if you qualify for a Special Enrollment Period.

I heard someone say, “it’s better to be half an hour early than 5 minutes late” and that may be the best advice for many with these dates fast approaching. Those who wait to the last minute may find long wait times on the phone, as the 30,000 calls per day average increases tremendously during key enrollment days. Officials at the Marketplace call centers anticipate 16.5 million calls this season.

Locally, Community Health Center of Northeast Oklahoma, Inc., continues to serve the area with the finest in personalized health care for the entire family with locations in Afton and Grove. For details or to schedule an appointment contact (918) 257-8029 or (918) 801-7504 or check us out on the web at www.chcneo.com, follow us on Facebook and Twitter. A sliding payment scale is available for patients based on family size and income.

Lee Hilliard, D.Min., Th.D., CAC, is the Outreach and Enrollment Specialist at the Community Health Center of Northeast Oklahoma. For local enrollment assistance with Marketplace, Insure Oklahoma or SoonerCare, please contact Lee at 918-219-4486 or lhilliard@chcneo.org.