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Deadline closes in on penalties for the uninsured

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BATON ROUGE - Louisiana residents without health insurance have about a month to sign up in order avoid penalties as tax season and deadlines loom.

Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA or "Obamacare"), all citizens are required to be insured or pay the price. With deadlines approaching, many Louisianians are struggling to make certain that they can avoid getting hit with fines.

Those uninsured for the year of 2014 must pay a minimum of $95 or one percent of their income, but in 2015 the penalty more than triples to $325 or two percent of total income.

"The only thing that went through my mind was I got to get it," said Claudine Jackson, who is in the process of getting health insurance herself. "And I better get it right this time."

Jackson is just one of many individual who will have to squeeze out $95 or more since she remained uninsured during the calendar year of 2014.

President of Health Agents for America Ronnell Nolan helps a number of individuals like Jackson sign up for the health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. She also trains agents on how to help consumers navigate the relatively complex series of steps and get insurance. She says people who are uninsured should be taking these penalties seriously.

"Why would you pay a penalty of one percent one year, two percent the next year, when you can have insurance the whole year and possibly not pay much for it," said Nolan. "It doesn't make any sense to give the government a penalty in money for no reason, and you don't have anything to show for it."

Louisiana's Insurance Commissioner James Donelon says the state has seen a rise in the number of people getting health insurance since March of 2010 when the Affordable Care Act was launched, but says it's important that people make an effort to stay insured.

"Regardless of penalty, the largest single cause of bankruptcies in America is uninsured medical expenses where folks are thinking I feel fine. I'm healthy. I'm young or what have you, but then a catastrophic illness comes their way," said Donelon.

The last day to sign up for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act is February 15th. Last year, about 100,000 people enrolled in Louisiana through the federal marketplace at healthcare.gov despite multiple instances where the website failed to meet consumer demand with delays and rolling outages.

For locals who need some help navigating the process, Baton Rouge General is offering free enrollment assistance on Tuesdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. For the uninsured who feel they can brave the registration steps on their own, healthcare.gov has guides to assist the uninsured in getting coverage so that they can avoid needless fines.




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