With all the confusion and obfuscation surrounding the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, it would be easy to overlook the fast-approaching deadline to sign up for health insurance.

The individual mandate — the requirement that all legal U.S. residents have health insurance coverage — takes effect at the end of the month, on March 31. There are exemptions, including for most of those who are left in the coverage gap by Virginia's non-expansion of Medicaid. However, others who go without insurance for more than three months will pay a fine for non-compliance.

The fine in 2014 is $95 per uninsured person (and $47.50 for each uninsured child) or 1 percent of household income. Those numbers rise to $695 in 2016 or 2 1/2 percent of household income.

The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that in 2016, 30 million Americans will still be uninsured, but of those, about 19 million will be exempt. It estimates that 6 million will pay a penalty resulting in fines of $7 billion. In subsequent years the budget office projects fines of $8 billion annually.

So, if you want to beat the deadline, but aren't sure if you can afford coverage, go to http://www.healthcare.gov and check out the cost of plans and the subsidies available for those who earn up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level — that's $46,000 for a single person, or $94,200 for a family of four.

• To enroll through the marketplace, go to http://www.healthcare.gov or http://www.enroll-virginia.com.

 • For help, call Hampton navigator Heather R. Parsons at 757-275-0125 or 1-888-392-5132, or email heatherp@enroll-virginia.com. For certified application counselor help, call the Southeastern Virginia Health System, 757-380-8709, to find the location nearest you.

•To apply by phone, call 1-800-318-2596.

• Or call an insurance broker.

Medicaid expansion

The Affordable Care Act's expansion of Medicaid health coverage hangs in the balance in Virginia. The General Assembly is slated to reconvene on March 24 to hammer out the budget and to make a determination on if, or how, Medicaid coverage will be expanded in the state.

Expansion would cover 375,000 low-income Virginians in the "coverage gap," those who make too much to qualify for existing Medicaid, but not enough to purchase insurance through the state marketplace.

At a statewide teleconference meeting of the Virginia Caregiver Coalition on Thursday, Jim Rothrock, commissioner for the Department of Rehabilitative Services, urged people to let their legislators know their opinion on expansion. "If things do change, it will be because of grassroots support," he said.

Live chat on Medicaid

Join the Daily Press politics team online at http://www.dailypress.com at 2 p.m. on Thursday, March 20 for a live chat on Medicaid expansion with local legislators.

Free live well class

"You Can! Live Well, Virginia!" is a 2 1/2 hour, six-week workshop to teach people how to manage their chronic disease condition — anything that has long-term effects on the body, such as diabetes, heart disease, etc. — and take charge of their lives. The workshops are free.

Workshops address ways to deal with frustration, fatigue and pain; appropriate exercise; medication use; healthy eating; how to evaluate new treatments; and effective communication with family, friends and health professionals.

The seminars will be at Warwick Forest Retirement Community, 1004 Old Denbigh Blvd., Newport News; from 9:30 a.m. to noon, on Wednesdays, April 2 to May 7.

Space is limited and pre-registration is required. Call 757-877-1485 or go to http://www.excellenceinagin.org/cdsmp.

More online

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