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Apply, Shop, Buy: A guide to being covered on January 1st

Tacky sweaters, mint-flavored holiday chocolates, and Mariah Carey Christmas songs blasting from everyone’s speakers—I love this time of year. But before you welcome 2014 and get completely wrapped up in the holiday craziness, make sure you and your family have everything you need to be covered on January 1st.

The deadline to enroll is next Monday, December 23rd—that's right around the corner. Below is a simple, no-nonsense guide to getting affordable health insurance in the new marketplace:

Step one: Apply
There are 15 states that have their own online marketplace—the rest use the federal online marketplace. Start by seeing which online marketplace you should use to fill out your application. No matter where you live, you can also apply over the phone, by mail, or in person. And there are services available to you if at any point you have questions about the process.

Step two: Shop
Make sure you set aside time to cruise the marketplace and pick out the right plan for you. There are many options to choose from, and if you get started early, you’ll have plenty of time to review them all. Think about it like any other kind of shopping you would do—before you commit to any purchase, you probably look around to see if there are other styles that fit you better, or if you can find a better deal from a different retailer. Use the same discretion when picking out your health care plan.

Step three: Buy
After you've completed your application and selected your plan in the marketplace, you need to submit your first payment to your new insurance company. Once you do that, you're all set.

Here’s something else to keep in mind: more than half of uninsured Americans will qualify for financial assistance to help pay for the cost of insurance. Try this handy calculator to see if you could qualify for assistance.

For so many years, quality health insurance has been out of reach for too many people. Now that it's available, take full advantage of your options. Enroll by December 23rd to be covered on January 1st.

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