Answer Desk: Deadlines for Obamacare coverage by Jan. 1

WASHINGTON – Deadlines under the federal Affordable Care Act, known colloquially as Obamacare, are confusing to say the least.

They vary depending on where consumers live and what health plans they may choose.

Some states have chosen to run their own health care exchanges, including Maryland and D.C. Others, such as Virginia, opted to let the federal government take over and run the state’s business through healthcare.gov.

So, here is the bottom line: To have health coverage through Obamacare by Jan. 1, 2014, most people across the country are being told to select a health plan by midnight Dec. 23. That is the case in Virginia and D.C.

However, officials in Maryland are providing some leeway. Marylanders have until Friday, Dec. 27 for the deadline.

Following this week, the next big deadline for consumers seeking coverage by the New Year will be paying their first premium. Most companies say you will be OK if you submit that payment by Jan. 10.

However, that date is not set in stone. Consumers should get the first payment in as soon as possible, or double check with their insurer to make sure they know exactly what the date is. That deadline can vary widely depending on location and health plan.

Of course, you can always choose to ignore these deadlines if you don’t want insurance at the start of 2014. But eventually, under Obamacare, those without insurance could face a federal tax penalty.

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