Margaret Eby
November 18, 2014 10:37 am

We’re back in the open enrollment period for Obamacare, a fact you may have noticed thanks to a torrent of celebrities teaming up with the White House to promote it on Twitter, from Kerry Washington to Sarah Silverman. But what this whole thing really means is that if you don’t have a job that offers a healthcare package, or if you work for yourself, or are freelance or contract, you can still find a plan that will cover you.

Of course navigating the government system is a whole thing. But we’re here to break down a few things to know if you’re planning to enroll but can’t wrap your head around what to do first.

Where to sign up: Open enrollment means that every state has set up an online health care exchange, which you can find on Healthcare.gov. That’s your starting place, right there.

How long you can put it off for: Enrollment goes from November 15 to February 15, the time where you can sign up for a plan, change a plan, add a dependent to get them covered, After February 15, you can only enroll under special circumstances, like the birth of a child.

If you want coverage to start in January, you need to sign up by December 15th. This also means that you’ll avoid the per-month fee as part of the new healthcare laws. (The way to avoid it is by obtaining a minimum level of healthcare insurance, which can be achieved through different plans.) The fee increases in 2015 to two percent of your income or $325/adult, whatever one is more.

How much it’s going to cost you: How much you pay for the plans depends on your income bracket, and also on what level of healthcare plan you want. Premiums for plans that are super-bare bones might only cover something like an emergency room visit, others, which you might want to select if you have more recurring health issues, have a higher cost initially, but mean that you don’t pay as much for each doctor’s visit.

You can also apply for government subsidies to lessen the financial burden, depending on your circumstances. (More than eight in ten applicants last year received those subsidies.) Here’s a handy chart that illustrates what breaks you might be qualified for.

Brace yourself: The online healthcare exchanges were notoriously terrible last year, but reports from this weekend found that the websites have fewer problems, allowing more than 100,000 Americans to sign up since the November 15th date. There are definitely still glitches, though: On Saturday, the Washington exchange was forced to shutter after officials determined that it was producing faulty premium tax credit calculations.  Meanwhile, Maryland pushed back its online enrollment until Wednesday after some tech glitches.

Look, nobody said it would be easy. But take some deep breaths, maybe make some relaxing tea or something, and go into this whole enrollment thing with a super-positive attitude. You got this!

(Image via Instagram)

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