Are you insured? The open enrollment period for health insurance through the Maryland Health Connection ends on Feb. 15, and those who remain uninsured at that time will forgo any federal tax subsidies they could have received, according to state officials, as well face a potentially hefty tax bill next year.

While the more than 50 qualified health insurance plans available through the Maryland Health Connection can be explored through its website at, marylandhealthconnection.gov, people who would prefer to have their questions answered face to face will have an opportunity on Saturday at TownMall of Westminster. Health care navigators will be on hand near the Belk entrance from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. to answer questions and help people enroll in a qualified health plan or Medicaid coverage, according to Eric Masten, director of health policy with Healthy Howard, a connector organization that coordinates enrollment events in Carroll County.

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"We will have about 15 stations … where we will have trained and certified staff and licensed insurance brokers to work with consumers to get them through the process," Masten said. "There will also be some general health information booths in that vicinity, including health screenings such as diabetes and child well-being screenings."

The process usually takes between 30 and 45 minutes, according to Masten, and sometimes faster for those who qualify for Medicaid, and no appointment is required.

While no one is required to enroll at the event — visitors can simply ask questions or see if they qualify for a subsidy, Masten said those who plan on enrolling should be sure they know the Social Security numbers or permanent resident numbers of any members of their household who are to be covered. Bringing income information can also be helpful.

"What we recommend for most folks is that they bring a copy of their most recent tax return," he said. "All those things are kind of contained on that one document, so that can be really helpful."

The Affordable Care Act mandated that all adults and their dependents have health insurance, and those who did not have coverage through an employer, Medicare, Medicaid or a private plan in 2014 will soon face a penalty on their tax bill of $95 per adult in their household or one percent of their income, according to Andrew Ratner, director of marketing and outreach with the Maryland Health Connection. Next year, the penalty will go up.

"You might have felt that $95 wasn't a big thing, but next year it's going to be $325 or two percent," Ratner said. "Feb. 15 is going to be the last chance you will have to enroll for this year."

There are some exemptions to the insurance requirement, according to Masten: things like loss of a job and related employer-based insurance plan, but all such exemptions are based on individual circumstances, the exact kind of issues that can be addressed at Saturday's event.

The Maryland Health Connection has sponsored enrollment events all across the state, and whether they are signing up to avoid the penalty or because they need coverage, Ratner said Marylanders have been enrolling quickly since open enrollment began in November.

"The total enrollment [in Maryland] as of Jan. 6 is 161,343 … We've already clipped the total enrollment for the entire open enrollment period last year, which was 66,000," Ratner said. "It's still a lot more work, but the enrollment events have been well attended … Healthy Howard has had 35,000 interactions with people this session. That's either helping inform people about insurance or helping enroll them."

Many of the people Ratner has seen come to enrollment events qualify for Medicaid or a tax credit to help lower their premium, but he said that ultimately people seem pleased to have coverage, regardless of what plan they select.

"Obviously the affordable part of the Affordable Care Act is the important part. Many of them are getting upfront tax credits, but many of them are putting money out of their own pocket. It's pretty clear there was a great need for it," he said. "People seem to come out pretty happy that they got the coverage."

Reach staff writer Jon Kelvey at 410-857-3317 or jon.kelvey@carrollcountytimes.com.

If you go

What: HealthConnectNow! Enrollment Fair

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When: 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 10

Where: TownMall of Westminster, 400 N. Center St., Westminster

Cost: Free

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