By AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION NEWS

It’s time to sign up for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act – an important date you may not be aware of because the government has cut back on enrollment awareness efforts.

The 2018 open enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare) began Nov. 1 and continues through Dec. 15. People can sign up in the insurance “marketplace” at healthcare.gov.

About 12 million people get their healthcare coverage through the ACA – which President Trump and some in Congress have been working to overturn. However, the law remains in effect and so signing up is important to ensure coverage.

The American Heart Association and numerous other major health organizations have expressed support for the ACA to make sure people are covered for chronic diseases and other major health problems.

“Failing to get coverage is more than just a minor inconvenience,” said American Heart Association CEO Nancy Brown. “For individuals facing cardiovascular disease – the number one killer of Americans – it can have life-or-death consequences.”

The ACA has been in effect since 2011, but changes this year could make signing up more difficult than usual.

The federal advertising and promotion budget was reduced from $100 million to $10 million. And grant funding from the Department of Health and Human Services for in-person enrollment assistants, known as “navigators,” was cut from $63 million  to just under $37 million. Also, the enrollment period was shortened three months to a month and a half – with planned website maintenance closures during high-traffic times.

Public health experts have expressed concern that all this could lead to fewer people signing up.

Uncertainty about the future of the ACA may also be driving up the uninsured rate, according to an October Gallup poll. It indicated 12.3 percent of American adults do not have health insurance – the highest percentage since 2014.

Some experts are concerned that fewer people will visit the Spanish-language enrollment website, CuidadoDeSalud.gov, which will be shut down for periods of scheduled maintenance during the enrollment period.

During the 2017 enrollment period, data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid revealed nearly a million people who identified as Latino or Hispanic enrolled in ACA health coverage, decreasing their uninsured rate to just under 25 percent.

A poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation this month found that the majority of people who need to enroll – those who currently purchase their own insurance or are uninsured – do not know when open enrollment begins (85 percent) or ends (95 percent).

A study from the American Heart Association found that Americans with cardiovascular risk factors who are uninsured or do not have access to insurance, have worse health outcomes than those who are insured. That includes higher mortality rates and poorer blood pressure control.

“We must do everything we can to help patients without coverage know when and how to sign up for health insurance during this open enrollment period,” Brown said.