Health insurance enrollment centers warn people to sign up early, avoid penalty

 Time is running out for the uninsured to avoid paying a penalty on their tax return. The open enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act ends on February 15.

Insurance enrollment volunteers said they fear that people will wait until it's too late to sign up for health insurance. Last year, volunteers at enrollment center Foundation Communities said they had 1,000 people show up on the last day of the open enrollment period. They are hoping this year, more people will plan ahead.

"People who are uninsured need to act now to get insurance so they won't be penalized for 2015," said Elizabeth Colvin, program director of Insure Central Texas.

Every taxpayer in the U.S. will have to answer a new question on their tax returns this year.

"For the very first time people will have to report whether or not they've had insurance on their tax return," said Colvin.  

Those that had insurance last year don't have much to worry about.

"You will have to check a box. Just check a box that says you have had insurance," said Colvin.

 However, the 5.7 million Texans that are still uninsured are at risk of paying a fine.  

"Well, I think people will be surprised the penalty's a lot more than they think it is and it's increasing each year," said Colvin.

Those that wait until Tax Day to consider their health insurance options could be in for a rude awakening.

"If you don't have insurance and you don't sign up at this open enrollment period by the deadline of February 15, you're going to be fined for 2015 and that penalty is significantly higher than what it was for 2014," said Colvin.

There are 115 health insurance plans to choose from in Central Texas and volunteers at Foundation Communities said they will do their best to help people find one that works for them.

"We had someone come in who was penalized for not having insurance in 2014. She came to see us and she was able to sign up for insurance that cost less than what her penalty would have been for 2015," said Colvin.

Anyone who isn't insured by the end of February 15, will have to pay a fine of 2 percent of their household income or $325 per person, whichever is greater. The penalties will increase again next year.

"The penalties will go up to 2.5 percent of your income in 2016 and then they will continue to increase each year after that," said Colvin.  

Foundation Communities is open seven days a week and accepts walk-ins. They ask customers to bring their tax return, social security card, immigration documents and information about insurance plans offered by an employer.

People seeking more information can call 2-1-1 to find local help center locations.

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