It’s Enrollment Time for Obamacare

In most cases, no. As part of the 2017 tax overhaul, Congress eliminated the federal penalty for not having health coverage, beginning in 2019. A handful of states, however, have their own requirements and may charge a penalty on state tax returns if filers don’t have coverage.

Can I buy Obamacare plans outside the government marketplaces?

The Trump administration has authorized several web brokers and insurers to sell Obamacare health plans using what it calls “enhanced direct” enrollment.

The sites may be useful, particularly for people who don’t qualify for premium credits on HealthCare.gov, experts say. But because some sites may also sell other types of policies, consumers should be cautious and make sure the plan they choose meets Affordable Care Act standards.

Ms. Volk advised asking the broker if the plan covers the 10 essential benefits required by the Affordable Care Act, including maternity care, hospital coverage and prescription drugs. She also recommended requesting a copy of the plan’s formal “summary of benefits,” rather than making a decision based on marketing materials alone.

Be skeptical if a broker asks detailed questions about your health status, Ms. Volk said. “That’s a red flag,” she said, because Obamacare compliant plans can’t deny coverage if you have a medical condition.

HealthSherpa, one of several authorized “enhanced direct” Obamacare brokers, offers only plans that are sold on the Affordable Care Act exchange and supports enrollment in Medicaid, the federal-state insurance plan for low-income people, Mr. Kalogeropoulos said. The site aims to offer a “better and easier user experience” for shoppers by providing mobile options for enrolling and submitting financial documents.

Experts generally advise starting your search at HealthCare.gov, which will automatically redirect you to the correct site if your state runs its own marketplace. Or call the federal enrollment hotline at 1-800-318-2596.

Isn’t the Affordable Care Act being challenged in court?

Several Republican-led states, backed by the Trump administration, have challenged the law, and a decision by an appeals court in Louisiana could come any day. Most health and legal experts expect that any outcome in the case will be appealed, so coverage for 2020 is unlikely to be affected. But they worry that confusion about the case may discourage some people from enrolling.