This year's open enrollment period to purchase private health insurance through HealthCare.gov has begun. This means that now through December 15, many Americans who buy coverage on the individual market or are uninsured will be struggling to make important decisions about their insurance needs. Though it may be stressful, there are plenty of reasons to consider reevaluating your current health insurance status.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) became law in March 2010. This was a momentous move for millions of Americans with asthma, lung cancer and other lung disease because it helped them qualify for quality and affordable healthcare. All plans on HealthCare.gov must cover the 10 essential health benefits; including hospitalizations, emergency care and prescription medications. They also cap your out-of-pocket costs, cannot limit patients' annual or lifetime coverage, and won't charge you more for a preexisting condition, like lung cancer. In addition, plans must cover preventive services, like lung cancer screening, which can save lives.

If this is the first time you have shopped for coverage on HealthCare.gov, this may sound too good to be true. Renee Dietchman of Kansas City thought the same thing until a series of unfortunate events lead to a surprising health discovery. "Two years ago, I had a car accident that led me to the emergency room. An X-ray was done on my broken arm, which led to the discovery that I had stage IV lung cancer," Renee recalled.

"Once my treatment started, I quickly learned that my "skimpy" health insurance plan did not include cancer treatment until after a year of coverage. If I waited one year for treatment, I would not have survived," she said.

Scared, overwhelmed and paying more than over $60,000 in medical bills, Renee began a quest to find a health plan that provided real, affordable coverage. Her search eventually led to HealthCare.gov, where she found a plan that not only covered her cancer treatments but offered an array of other benefits. "Here are a few lessons I learned on my cancer treatment journey. Be your own health advocate, read the fine print, and do your own research to find the best plan for you, in good health and bad."

Plans and pricing change every year which is why it's so important to shop around to ensure that the plan you have is covers all your family's needs. As you are searching for your plan, here are some things to watch for:

  • Beware of short-term and other skimpy plans like Renee's that won't cover your healthcare costs when you are sick. Download our fact sheet about these plans for patients here.
  • Go to HealthCare.govto purchase coverage.
    • You may be eligible for help paying for coverage (over 80% of people who buy coverage on HealthCare.gov receive financial assistance) and HealthCare.gov will calculate your subsidies.
    • Plans on HealthCare.gov are comprehensive plans, so you won't accidentally end up with a plan that doesn't cover the care you need.
  • For local help, you can work with a Navigator, a Certified Application Counselor or an Insurance Broker. Find out more about these resources on our fact sheet.
  • If you use a broker, make sure you only work with a broker licensed by HealthCare.gov. Be sure to ask them if they represent all plans on the Marketplace, how they are being compensated and why they are recommending a plan before making any decisions.

The American Lung Association also offers a variety of tools for health insurance seekers. View our guide to open enrollment to learn more.

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