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Buying health insurance through MNsure: 5 tips and explanations

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You can now buy your health insurance through MNsure.

The open enrollment period (when anyone can browse and purchase coverage plans) began Nov. 1. It's the third year of operation for the state-run health insurance exchange, created under 2012's Affordable Care Act.

Basically, if you don't have a job that offers health insurance (and you're not 26 anymore, so can't stay on your parents' plan), you can go to the MNsure website and look through a bunch of different types of health insurance options.

Here are five need-to-knows in case your head is still spinning:

1. Premiums and deductibles: What they are

Both those words get thrown around a lot, so if you're not sure what they are – the premium is how much your health insurance costs every month. The deductible is the amount of money (in addition to the monthly premium) you have to pay in medical bills before insurance starts paying for it.

A general rule of thumb: A low premium means you probably have a higher deductible – whereas a higher premium (so you're paying more upfront) means you might have a deductible as low as $0. With many plans though, some basic preventative measures – such as an annual physical – don't require you to pay part of the deductible.

2. Premiums went up, but there's also more financial help

The premiums will, on average, be higher this year than last – but MNsure officials are touting tax credits, which you automatically can qualify for based on income and plan cost, as a big way the cost will be kept down.

Those tax credits are only available when purchasing plans through MNsure.

3. Need financial help? MNsure lays out the options

If you create an account, punching in your income plus the other figures it needs, the MNsure site will tell you what type tax credits or reductions you qualify for.

For a household of one, if your annual income is $47,080 or less, you qualify for tax credits of some sort. Click the chart above for a closer breakdown, and click here to see MNsure's page on financial assistance.

4. The sooner you sign up, the sooner you're covered

If you pick a plan between now and Dec. 15, your health coverage kicks in Jan. 1, 2016. Choose a plan from Dec. 16-Jan. 1 15, and it starts in February; and Jan. 16-Jan. 31, it starts in March.

After Jan. 31, you can not enroll in health insurance through MNsure until fall of 2016.

5. If you don't have insurance, you'll be fined

Sure, giving up a chunk of your check every month to buy insurance doesn't sound appealing. But there's incentive – not having health coverage means you're facing a fine. (In 2016, it'll be either 2.5 percent of certain taxable income, or a flat $695 – whichever one is greater.)

There are some people who aren't legally required to have health insurance. Though there are very few exemptions.

Bonus tip: Don't use a phone or tablet to sign up

MN's low uninsured rate

The Upshot, which is part of the New York Times, has a national map of who is insured and who isn't. The counties with the highest uninsured rate tend to be in the south and/or poor, their research found.

In Minnesota – one of the states that created its own health insurance exchange and also expanded the Medicaid program as part of the Affordable Care Act – only four counties have an uninsured rate higher than 10 percent: Mahnomen (14 percent), Beltrami (13 percent), Cass and Clearwater (10 percent).

A February Gallup poll found only 7.4 percent of Minnesotans did not have health insurance – one of the lowest rates in the country.

While the debut offering from MNsure was plagued by website glitches and call center backups, the second iteration went much smoother (though there were still hiccups). A MNsure official told MPR News last week they expect an even better experience in 2015.

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