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Explaining Open Enrollment: How to Get Covered!

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We are at the dawn of a new day as our nation moves one step closer to becoming the more perfect union our forefathers envisioned. Beginning this month, nearly 48 million uninsured Americans will embark upon a path toward high-quality health care.

On October 1, the Affordable Care Act's Health Insurance Marketplace opens for enrollment ensuring that hard-working, middle class families at or below the poverty line, can have access to quality health care without the threat of financial instability. The NAACP has long pushed for full implementation of health exchanges -- online marketplaces to compare and purchase health insurance plans on the spot -- developed as a part of the Affordable Care Act. We made this push knowing that our community is disproportionately affected by treatable health problems and disproportionately uninsured.

African Americans suffer from obesity, heart disease, and diabetes at higher levels than the general population. For example, 37 percent of African Americans were obese in 2010, compared to 26 percent of whites. Expanding opportunities for coverage through these exchanges can improve health outcomes for African Americans and other marginalized communities.

Open enrollment runs from October 1 through March 31. You can start your enrollment process by visiting Healthcare.gov to join the Health Insurance Marketplace. Some states have setup their own.The federal government runs the rest. This website will allow you to browse different health insurance policies and decide which best suits you and your family.

If you are unable to access the Internet, you can call 1-800-318-2596. If you enroll by December 14, your new health insurance plan will start January 1, 2014. Those who enroll between December 14 and January 31 will see their plans begin February 1. Finally, participants signing up between February and March will begin their plans in the subsequent month. Plans can come with a range of services and price tags, but many Americans seeking coverage will be able to find a plan for less than $100 a month.

All plans bought through the exchanges must offer the same coverage benefits and free preventive care. Under the Affordable Care Act, no one can be turned away, not even those with pre-existing conditions.

Some Americans will be exempt from the health insurance mandate, according to the Congressional Budget Office. These are people who cannot afford it: For instance, people who are not required to file a tax return will be exempt. This also includes people in states that don't expand Medicaid.

Three years ago, President Barack Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) into law to expand access to the quality health care to millions of Americans living without insurance. Under the legislation, 3.1 million young adults have already gained access to health insurance coverage through the parents' plans, and more than 100 million Americans are already paying less for preventative care under their existing plans.

We are on the brink of an important shift in American health care, and we must exhibit the courage to seize the moment. Find out what you need to know during this open enrollment season by visiting Healthcare.gov. Get empowered, then get covered!