If you're one of the millions who will be signing up for new healthcare plans, there are several things to consider when you log on to www.healthcare.gov.
One of the first steps, start window shopping early. Very few consumers are expected to enroll in a plan right away. That's why experts advise you to start looking at the options early and to give yourself plenty of time for the application process.
You should also expect glitches in system. Many have already reported problems with the website.
In addition, understanding how the plans work and picking one that suits someone's needs will take time, perhaps several visits to the marketplace website or conversations with those trained to help with enrollment.
You also need to keep in mind that December 15th will be here before you know it. A rush of activity is expected in the days around Dec. 15, before the Jan. 1 coverage requirements kick in. Another nig rush is expected again in mid-March before the open enrollment period ends.
It's OK to have second thoughts about a plan you've selected as long as the plan has not taken effect. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, if you sign up for a plan but then decide during the annual enrollment period that you want to switch, you can as long as the policy hasn't yet become effective.
Once a plan actually becomes effective, however, no changes may be made until the following open enrollment period. Next year that will be between Oct. 15 and Dec. 7.
There are exceptions if someone experiences a significant change in life circumstances, such as a birth, divorce, job loss or permanent relocation.
Although the law requires most people to have insurance starting in January, people are allowed to be uninsured for a three-month period once a year without penalty. The latest date that someone could generally buy a plan and avoid facing a penalty for being uninsured next year would be March 15.
Before you visit the exchange website, make sure you have all of the paperwork and information you will need. This includes Social Security numbers and health insurance policy numbers for any health plans that cover members of your household.