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Deadline to get mandated health insurance is Sunday

Those who have yet to enroll in health insurance could face a tax penalty if they fail to do so by Sunday, Sonoma County officials warned Thursday.

Under President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, most Americans are required to have health insurance or pay a tax penalty. This year, the penalty is either a maximum of $2,085 per family or 2.5 percent of a family’s yearly household income, whichever is higher.

Most people get their health insurance through an employer. Others must purchase health plans on the individual market, which includes the Covered California health exchange established by the Affordable Care Act. Local residents can also enroll at economic assistance offices run by the Sonoma County Human Services Department, and also at some North Coast community health centers.

During the 2014-15 fiscal year, the county enrolled more than 12,700 people in Covered California plans, which offer monthly premium subsidies for low-income residents. The subsidies vary depending on individual or family income levels. Low- or no-cost plans are also available through Medi-Cal, the state’s Medicaid program. Medi-Cal enrollment takes place year-round.

“Many low-income clients apply for Covered California and are happily surprised to find they are eligible for free or low-cost coverage through Medi-Cal,” Kim Seamans, director of economic assistance for the county Human Services Department, said in a statement. “Residents covered by either program can access the same health care services.”

The penalty for not having insurance has increased this year. Families without insurance must pay the higher of either 2.5 percent of household income or a fee for each member of the family. That fee is $695 for each adult and $347.50 for each child, with the maximum set at $2,085 per family.

U.S. Census data offers some hint as to how many of Sonoma County’s half-million residents are affected by the Affordable Care Act’s so-called “individual mandate.” According the Census Bureau’s annual American Community Survey, an estimated 276,149 residents had health insurance through a current or former employer or union in 2014. Another 79,079 were covered by non-employer private insurance.

Karen Fies, assistant director of the county Human Services Department, said there are roughly 107,000 Sonoma County residents covered by Medi-Cal. Those who get their insurance through their employer or union need not worry about the deadline. But county officials said those who have to buy their own insurance through the state’s health exchange need to enroll as soon as possible to avoid the tax penalties.

For more information on how to enroll in health insurance through Covered California or Medi-Cal see an online listing of enrollment locations at www.sonoma-county.org/healthcarereform/enrollment.asp, or call Economic Assistance at (877) 699-6868.

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 521-5213 or martin.espinoza@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @renofish.

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