The deadline for obtaining health insurance coverage as mandated by the Affordable Care Act is Feb. 15, and in Carroll County, a series of free, last-minute enrollment events beginning this weekend will make officials available to help the uninsured get coverage.

"We're reminding Marylanders don't wait to enroll. Feb. 15 will be here before you know it," said Carolyn Quattrocki, director of the Maryland Health Benefits Exchange, which operates Maryland's health insurance marketplace, the Maryland Health Connection. "Take the time now to make sure you and your family have health coverage this year and the peace of mind that comes with it."

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On Saturday navigators will be on hand from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Finksburg branch of the Carroll County Public Library, according to Eric Masten, Healthy Howard director of health policy, advocacy and communications.

Healthy Howard, a connector organization that facilitates Carroll County residents' enrollment through the Maryland Health Connection, will then host similar enrollment events from 1 to 4:30 p.m. on Sundayat Westminster library and from 5 to 9 p.m. on Wednesday at the Eldersburg branch. No appointments are necessary.

"We want to make sure that as many people as possible get covered and for most individuals … they need to get covered before the Feb. 15 deadline," Masten said. "Folks are welcome to walk on in, and we will remind folks to bring the various documentation they will need to get covered — Social Security numbers, information on policies that might be available to them through an employer, that kind of thing."

The final enrollment event before the Feb.15 deadline will be geared for those who keep a later schedule, a 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. special event at Denny's Restaurant in Westminster, beginning on Thursday.

"Folks can come in during that time window, and the first 75 people can get a free late-night breakfast and then we'll have staff available to help folks get enrolled," Masten said. "We did it last year in Denny's in [Westminster] and had a great turnout."

Last year, 5,692 people in Carroll County registered for qualified health insurance plans or Medicaid insurance through the Maryland Health Connection, according to Masten, representing 37.7 percent of the estimated uninsured population in the county.

As of Wednesday, only 4,334 people in Carroll had registered through the Maryland Health Connection, Masten said.

Unless a larger number of previously uninsured people in Carroll County have found insurance through an employer or elsewhere, they could face consequences for not complying with the Affordable Care Act's mandate that all adults and their independents be covered.

"Most individuals need to have coverage … and they need to be covered for nine out of the 12 months in 2015," Masten said. "If not, when they file their 2015 taxes, by April 2016, there will be a tax penalty."

People who were not covered as required during 2014 are facing a tax penalty — $95 per adult or 1 percent of household income, whichever is greater — on their 2014 tax return. But it will not stay that way.

"It is important for them to realize that next year the penalty will increase," Masten said.

Those without qualifying coverage in 2015 will face a penalty of $325 per adult or 2 percent of their household income.

It's important to note that not everyone needs to purchase insurance through the Maryland Health Connection in order to comply with the law, according to Masten.

"If they have coverage through an employer, through Medicaid or Medicare, [Veterans Affairs] coverage or if they have purchased insurance on the private market, those individuals are covered by the requirement," he said.

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There are also some exemptions to the coverage requirement. Life changes such as marriage or divorce, for example, could change a person's obligation," Masten said. However, exemptions are handled on a case-by-case basis, and in the end, Masten said the best way to either get coverage — possibly with the help of a federal subsidy — or qualify for an exemption is to come to an enrollment event or call Maryland Health Connection's consumer support center at 855-642-8572 to speak with a navigator who can walk you through the process. You can also go online.

"Everyone should go ahead and visit http://www.marylandhealthconnection.gov to see what they qualify for in terms of financial assistance and the plans, and there is also information available about exemptions," Masten said.

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

If you go

Saturday, Feb. 7: Health insurance enrollment event 9 a.m.-1 p.m. at the Finksburg branch of the Carroll County Public Library, 2265 Old Westminster Pike, Finksburg

Sunday, Feb. 8: Health insurance enrollment event 1-4:30 p.m. at the Westminster branch of the Carroll County Public Library, 50 E. Main St., Westminster

Wednesday, Feb. 11: Health insurance enrollment event, 5-9 p.m. at the Eldersburg branch of the Carroll County Public Library, 6400 W. Hemlock Dr., Eldersburg

Thursday, Feb. 12: Late-night breakfast enrollment event 10 p.m. Feb. 12 to 1 a.m. Feb. 13 at Denny's Restaurant, 400 Englar Road, Westminster

For more information on any of these events, call 855-288-3667. For more information on health insurance requirements, subsidies and the Affordable Care Act, go to marylandhealthconnection.gov or call 855-642-8572.

What to bring

A complete list of required or helpful documentation to bring to an enrollment event can be found online at marylandhealthconnection.gov by clicking "Download Center" at the bottom of the page and selecting "Application Checklist."

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