FORT GEORGE G. MEADE, Md. --
1. All Americans are required by law to have minimum essential coverage.
Beginning Jan. 1, 2014, everyone (with a few exemptions) will be required to have some type of health insurance or face a 1 percent tax (of total household income) that could go up to 2.5 percent by 2016. For anyone who is not currently insured through their employer, the new Health Insurance Marketplace allows people to comparison shop for a plan that best meets their needs.
2. If you have Tricare, you're good.
Active duty service members need not worry. Military personnel, veterans, civilians and their families covered under Tricare will not see a change in their care or tax status. No additional action is required. Additionally, if you're enrolled in (or are a beneficiary of) Veterans health care program, VA Civilian Health and Medical Program (CHAMPVA) or Spina bifida health care benefits program, you're considered to have minimum essential coverage under the health care law and are not required to get additional coverage. Civilians that are satisfied with their current policy won't need to make any changes either.
3. If you're separating, you need to act quickly if you want to avoid a fee.
Service members are eligible for 180 days of Tricare for free, after they separate. You can also purchase the Continued Health Care Benefit Program for an additional 18-36 months of minimum essential coverage. Once that runs out, it's important that the minimum essential coverage is obtained through other means to avoid the fee.
4. ...And you don't want to pay the fee.
Starting January 1, 2014, if someone doesn't have a health plan that qualifies as minimum essential coverage, they may have to pay a fee that increases every year: from 1 percent of household income (or $95 per adult, whichever is higher) in 2014 to 2.5% of income (or $695 per adult) in 2016. The fee for children is half the adult amount. The fee is paid on the 2014 federal income tax form, which is completed in 2015. And if you don't fork over the cash, the IRS will just deduct it from a future tax refund.
5. There are some important milestones:
The Health Insurance Marketplace opened Oct. 1. If you or someone you know is not insured, visit www.healthcare.gov to get started. Jan. 1, 2014 is the deadline to have the minimum essential coverage. March 31, 2014 is when open enrollment ends. After that, you can get new private health insurance for 2014 only through a special enrollment period if you have a qualifying life event like a job loss, birth, or divorce.
To see the list of exempted groups, visit www.irs.gov and for more information on the new healthcare laws visit www.whitehouse.gov.