Health Team

Tutorial: 2.0

Posted November 11, 2014

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—, the federal online marketplace for purchasing health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, has been revamped for the law's second open enrollment period.

Government officials have promised that the sign-up experience will be better for people this year after last year's disastrous roll-out of the site, which was plagued by crashes and other technical glitches.

The easiest improvement to notice is in the online application form. Last year, people had to click through 76 screens to enroll, compared with the 16 screens in this year's process for new enrollees. Returning customers will have to go back into their long-form application from last year, but much of the information will be already filled in.

One thing that frustrated people last year was not being able to window-shop for coverage without first creating an account on The updated site allows people to view and compare plans and prices.

North Carolinians now have three insurers from which to choose, up from two a year ago. Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina offers 27 plans on the exchange, while Coventry Health Care of the Carolinas offers three plans and United Health Care, which wasn't part of the exchange in 2013, offers nine plans.

Coverage will automatically renew for the 357,500 people statewide who bought a plan on the exchange during the last enrollment if they make no changes. But they can still update their information and browse the marketplace to see if their are plans that better fit their needs and budgets.

The first enrollment period lasted six months, from Oct. 1, 2013, through March 31, 2014, after President Barack Obama extended deadlines because of's early problems. The new enrollment period is only three months, beginning Saturday and ending Feb. 15, 2015.

People who don't have health coverage through their employer or are on Medicaid or the Children's Health Insurance Program face a tax penalty if they don't purchase insurance on the exchange. Last year, fines for staying uninsured started at $95 or 1 percent of annual income, but those have increased this time around to $325 or 2 percent of annual income, whichever is greater.


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