Obamacare rolled out on January 1, 2014 and for those who enrolled in a health plan on December 24, 2013 via a federal or state health insurance exchange, coverage began on January 1, 2014. It’s important to know the facts. Many young adults are putting off buying health insurance through the exchange and think they would be better off paying the penalty of $95 a year or 1% of their income (whichever is higher). With plans on state-based exchanges costing as much as $200 to $300, young people also feel that it would be better to sign up for Obamacare only when they have a serious health issue or an accident. But there’s more to it. Here are some important things you should know about enrollment in Obamacare.

Americans can sign up for an Obamacare health care plan on the exchange during a specific enrollment period, which for 2014, ends on March 31, 2014. That means even if you have not signed up so far, you still have time to do so till March 31, 2014. However, if you miss the March 31 deadline, you cannot purchase health insurance through a federal or state exchange in 2014 and receive the federal subsidy or tax credit.

If you do not enroll in Obamacare by March 31, 2014, you can still get coverage by buying a health plan outside the exchange at any time (though you should check with the plan for actual date on which you can enroll). These policies, sold by private health insurance companies, will cover many of the benefits offered by the plans sold on the exchanges, such as maternity and mental health benefits, and cannot exclude people with pre-existing conditions.

However, those who opt to purchase insurance off the exchange will face the challenge of comparing plans and premiums. The Obamacare health exchange websites allow people to browse through the various plans offered and choose the one that best suits their needs and budget.

People who still want to sign up for Obamacare plan after March 31, 2014 can do so during the enrollment period that runs from October 15 to December 7, 2014. Coverage will begin only in 2015.

Exceptions to the Rule

There are special enrollment periods for people with ‘qualifying life events’. This means you can enroll in Obamacare at any time outside the open enrollment period if you are experiencing a major life event: getting married, having, adopting, or placement of a child, permanently moving to a new area that offers different health plan options, losing other health coverage due to a job loss, and so on. Also, Americans who are eligible for Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) can enroll at any time this year.

Sign Up without Delay

If you have decided to purchase coverage through the health exchange, you should do so at the earliest and not wait till you fall sick or have an accident. If you sign up between the 1st and 15th day of the month and pay your premium on time, your coverage will start on the first day of the following month and your illness or accident would not be covered. Emergency room bills can run into thousands of dollars, prompting the government to look for ways to standardize ER charges for tighter control over ER medical billing practices. Having a plan that covers emergency care can give you peace of mind.