About 80,000 Nebraskans and 45,000 Iowans who have individual or family health insurance through the Affordable Care Act marketplaces should renew their plans or pick new ones by Dec. 15 to keep coverage in effect Jan. 1.

Nebraska Insurance Director Bruce Ramge said the Nebraska figure includes more than 35,500 people whose 2016 plans won’t continue in 2017 because Blue Cross Blue Shield of Nebraska and UnitedHealth Group won’t offer the plans.

He said Nebraskans should be “actively engaged” in selecting a plan that best suits their needs. Insurance agents and licensed “navigators” can provide advice. To find a navigator near you, go to localhelp.healthcare.gov.

In Iowa, Wellmark Blue Cross Blue Shield is participating in the exchange for the first time.

Open enrollment for plans under the federal law, also called Obamacare, works like this:

» Through the end of January you can renew, change or enroll for the first time in a plan in the marketplace at HealthCare.gov and determine whether you qualify for tax credits or other cost-reducing incentives. Nearly 90 percent of the people with plans this year receive the subsidies, which are based on family income and size.

» If you enroll in a plan by Dec. 15, coverage under the new or renewed plan begins Jan. 1. If you enroll between Dec. 16 and Jan. 15, coverage begins Feb. 1. If you enroll between Jan. 16 and Jan. 31, coverage begins March 1.

» If you have a policy from the marketplace and do nothing, you will be re-enrolled automatically in the same plan, if it exists, even though terms have changed for the coming year, or a similar plan if the 2016 plan no longer exists.

Ramge said people with plans that will continue to exist should review the 2017 version because the plans will have higher rates and may have different terms, such as prices for prescription drugs or the network of doctors and hospitals covered by the plan.

Nebraskans with 2016 plans from Blue Cross and UnitedHealth will be enrolled automatically in a different plan that the exchange determines is as similar as possible. Ramge said those plans may not be what the consumer wants, so people whose plans are ending should shop for a 2017 plan on HealthCare.gov.

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