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Confused about Affordable Care Act enrollment changes? Here's help

ACA is still in effect but open enrollment period is cut in half. Other changes make it crucial to compare options.{ } CR photo

Since the Affordable Care Act is still the law of the land, most people must have coverage or pay a penalty.

If you don't have health insurance through your job, Medicare, or Medicaid, this is the time to choose an individual health insurance plan for coverage in 2018.

One of the biggest changes is the shorter open enrollment period. It's been cut in half to only 45 days.

But there are two enrollment deadlines in state of Washington: Dec. 15, for coverage starting Jan. 1, 2018, and Jan. 15 for coverage starting in February 2018.

More than in years past, choosing a health care plan under the ACA this year is a complex decision.

Consumer Reports Money Editor Donna Rosato says one reason is uncertainty.

"With all the earlier uncertainty about the ACA's future, some insurance companies pulled out of the ACA exchanges," said Rosato, "But every county in the U.S. will have at least one insurer offering coverage. But in many places, your options may be different than they were last year."

If you live in Washington state and plan to enroll, or re-enroll, go to the Washington Health Benefit Exchange website as soon as possible.

You can renew your coverage, report a change in your circumstances, and make sure you understand which plan will best meet your health care needs.

If you live outside the state of Washington, the Consumers Union Healthcare Launchpad provides information on how to choose a plan based on guidelines in your state.

If you had an ACA plan in 2017, keep in mind that same plan might not be your best option this time around.

While tax credits can be used for any exchange plan, the credit amounts change year to year based on your income, and the second lowest health plan, the "Silver" plan.

The good news for Washington consumers, is the Washington Health Benefit Exchange has increased the ways you can get help- with new online resources, new resources for mobile devices, more in-person, one on one assistance, and more call center hours on weekends to help you compare plans and make the best choice.

According to the Washington Health Benefit Exchange, eight in 10 people who enroll, will need their coverage to start in January to avoid a break in their benefits. So remember, the deadline for January coverage is Dec. 15

You can find a complete list of places across the state where you can call or go in person for help, by using WHBE's new "Smart Planfinder" tool designed to help you find and enroll in ACA coverage for 2018.

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