In this Oct. 18, 2017 photo, the website is seen on a computer screen in Washington. Credit: Alex Brandon | AP

If you haven’t already, it’s time to sign up for health insurance for 2018.The deadline is Dec. 15, which is coming up soon. If you don’t apply, you could face penalties or, potentially worse for your health, not have any coverage next year. Benefits start Jan. 1.

The Affordable Care Act created what’s called the Health Insurance Marketplace or exchange for Americans who don’t get health insurance through an employer or government program. This is where you go to compare coverage plans, find out if you qualify for financial assistance and sign up for a plan. In Maine, the marketplace is

You don’t need to worry about signing up if you’re already covered, such as through an employer, Medicare or Medicaid, but eligibility requirements to get benefits are pretty broad. You have to live in the U.S. and be a citizen (or lawfully present), and you can’t be incarcerated.

What you’ll pay for health care each month — your premium — will depend on many different things, but big factors include age, where you live, whether you smoke and your income.

Here are some things to know:

To see if your income is in the range to save money on a plan, and how much you may save, visit About 85 percent of the roughly 80,000 Maine residents insured under Obamacare in 2017 qualified for subsidies based on their income.

You can browse all available plans and their estimated prices at:

And start an application at:

There are people specially trained to help you understand your options and sign up: navigators and health insurance agents or brokers. You can find who is nearest to you by visiting

There are a couple key things to remember when shopping for a plan. For instance, if you know you’ll require more health care, it might be worth it to pay slightly higher premiums but a lower deductible (which is what you have to pay for health care services before your insurance plan kicks in).

Also, Richard Thaler, an economics professor at the University of Chicago, has some advice on determining whether a high-deductible plan is better for you. He’s written up for The New York Times “an imperfect, yet fairly, simple way” to do the calculations. You can check out his tips at

The Affordable Care Act has been, and continues to be, a political lightning rod, but don’t let the politics distract you from protecting your health and making sure you have coverage.

There is clear evidence that having health insurance increases access to primary care, preventive care, treatment for chronic illnesses, medications and surgery, and ultimately helps people be more financially secure and live longer lives. So don’t forget to sign up by Dec. 15.

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