Open enrollment period for comes to an end

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COLUMBIA - Sunday marked the final day for open enrollment in the Health Insurance Marketplace, or The Cover Missouri Coalition and Primaris Foundation in Columbia offered free counseling services to anyone with questions about health insurance coverage.

The open enrollment period began in November and closed Sunday unless a person experiences special circumstances throughout the year. These circumstances include having or adopting a child, getting married, moving or losing coverage.

Jeremy Milarsky of the Primaris Foundation said the event was meant to inform the public of the different health insurance options.

“We believe that public policy works best with public understanding,” Milarsky said. “This is a somewhat complex system for people. That’s why we’re here.”

Gary Johnson went to the event to sign up for health insurance, and he said the counseling services made the complex system easier to understand.

"I think it can be a little overwhelming if you have to go through a lot of this paperwork or website on your own," Johnson said. "You may not totally know exactly what the information is saying, so these people are experienced enough to spell it out and make sure there's no questions."

Counselors looked at clients’ tax returns and projected income for the coverage year among other things to determine their options in terms of cost and affordability.

“Every case is different,” Milarsky said. “Some people have access to very inexpensive insurance, some people have access to insurance that might cost a little bit more. We help them figure out where they stand with the law, they make the choice of what they want to do and we help them with the steps to make that choice.”

Johnson said the experience wasn't as tedious as he had anticipated.

"It was quite a bit less painless than I thought it was going to be," Johnson said. "Maybe now I can go ride that unicycle I have in my garage."

Johnson said he was happy to get insurance before time ran out and he would've had to pay a penalty. Milarsky said people who can afford access to health insurance yet choose not to can be subject to an individual shared responsibility payment.

“If you have access to affordable coverage, generally defined as coverage that costs less than 8 percent of your income, and you do not enroll in it, you can be asked to pay more in taxes,” Milarsky said. “This is commonly called the Obamacare penalty.”

For 2016, the penalty could be 2.5 percent of the household income or $695 per adult and $347.50 per child not covered. The person without coverage would pay whichever amount is higher.