In 2014, the Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as “Obamacare,” goes into full effect. That time is quickly approaching, so arm yourself with knowledge of how this bill affects individuals and what you’ll need to do before the first of the year.

Understand the Law

The aims of the Affordable Care Act are to provide health care access for all Americans, to protect consumers, to increase the quality of care and to lower healthcare costs.

One key component of the law is the individual mandate, which requires all Americans to have health coverage. Other features include a greater emphasis on preventive care, increased access to health coverage for many Americans and a Patient’s Bill of Rights, designed to protect consumers and help them make informed choices.

Apply for Coverage

If you need health care coverage, the Health Insurance Marketplace allows you to compare and select private health insurance plans. In the Marketplace, you can apply for coverage, compare plan options and enroll in a plan. The Marketplace is only for people who need to purchase private health insurance. If you already have Medicare or affordable employer-sponsored insurance, you do not need to visit the Marketplace.

Open enrollment for the Marketplace began Oct. 1, 2013 and ends March 31, 2014. However, if you want your coverage to begin on Jan. 1, 2014, you must enroll by Dec. 15, 2013.

The Marketplace is available nationwide, but some states run it from their own sites, and others use the federal site, To find out about the Marketplace in your state, visit the “What is the Marketplace in my state?” page found on

If you need assistance applying for coverage, local help is available around the country. Visit the “Find Local Help” page found on to find resources in your area.

Determine Whether You Qualify for Assistance

Some families and individuals will qualify for tax credits that help cover the cost of insurance plans purchased through the Marketplace. The Advance Premium Tax Credit can reduce the amount of your monthly premiums. Eligibility varies based on family size and income. Fill out a Marketplace application to determine your eligibility.

Some applicants will qualify for Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Eligibility rules vary between states. To find out whether you qualify for under the new rules, fill out an application in the Health Insurance Marketplace or visit your state’s Medicaid website. If you already have Medicaid, you don’t need to do anything.

Be Aware of the Penalties

Under Obamacare, uninsured individuals will face penalties. In 2014, if you do not have minimum essential coverage, you will have to pay the greater of 1 percent of your income or up to $285 per family. This penalty increases significantly during 2015 and 2016. In addition to this fee, uninsured people will still be responsible for their own health care costs. Limited exemptions are available.

Consider a Different Approach

Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. —Galatians 6:2

Some Christians choose to join a cost-sharing ministry instead of purchasing health insurance. Through these groups, such as Samaritan Ministries and Medi-Share, members send a monthly share that helps to cover another member’s medical needs. Then, in their time of need, they can turn to fellow members to share their health care burdens. Specifics of monthly shares, coverage options and administrative details vary between ministries.

Members of health care sharing ministries are exempt from the Affordable Care Act’s penalties for not having insurance. Apply for this exemption in the Health Insurance Marketplace or on your 2014 federal tax return. For more information on how health care sharing ministries are affected by the Affordable Care Act, consult the ministry of your choice.

If you need to find health coverage before 2014, now is the time to act. If you do not already have minimum essential coverage, such as a Medicaid, Medicare or an affordable employer-sponsored plan, start shopping the Health Insurance Marketplace for a plan that will be a good fit for your family, or consult a health care sharing ministry about enrolling in their program. Here’s to a healthy 2014!

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