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Earlier deadline, shorter time frame this year for people who buy their own coverage.

PAMPLINE FILE PHOTO - Gov. Kate Brown is helping get the word out about a new Dec. 15 deadline for Oregonians who buy their own health coverage and are not on Medicare.Oregonians who buy their own private health insurance need to start signing up for next year's coverage now, officials say — because of a new, unforgiving final deadline that falls far earlier than ever before.

Advocates and state officials are warning that for the first time, the final deadline for more than 200,000 Oregonians to sign up for health insurance falls on Dec. 15.

That's a big change. When the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act started in 2013, it saw the advent of new rules that allowed people who buy their own coverage and are not on Medicare to do so only in a set time period. Last year, the final deadline to enroll was Jan. 31.

This year, the deadline for consumers falls six weeks earlier. That's before their current policies expire — and during the holiday season when people are notoriously slow to respond to mailings and sign-up deadlines.

Because of the compressed time frame and contradictory headlines about health coverage, this year promises to be "very confusing," says Jesse O'Brien, a consumer advocate for the Oregon State Public Interest Research Group, which has been tracking health insurance for years.

Not only that, but the federally funded publicity campaign that was employed to energize consumers in years past is largely gone, thanks to a budget-cutting decision by President Donald Trump's administration. Notwithstanding that and other changes, Trump's efforts to repeal the federal health law known as Obamacare have so far been unsuccessful.

"There's a lot of divisive rhetoric and distractions on the national stage about health care," Gov. Kate Brown said at the Monday kickoff event announcing this year's open enrollment period.

"But in Oregon we must keep focused," Brown said. "We actually believe that people ought to have access to health care."

The kickoff, held at Cascade AIDS Project in downtown Portland, was just part of a stepped-up effort by state officials in response to the federal cuts — including more than $400,000 worth of television ads to promote enrollment.

At the event, Brown cited the experiences of consumers for whom one significant health problem can mean bankruptcy. "Health insurance doesn't just protect your health," she said. "It protects your finances."

While most Oregonians get their health insurance from their employer, or the Oregon Health Plan, or Medicare, the enrollment event was focused on the individual market that was the focus of Obamacare. The law called for setting up online marketplaces, or exchanges, to allow people to shop for insurance, enroll and qualify for income-based subsidies all in one sitting.

These days, despite all the hubbub over the unsuccessful Obamacare repeal, consumers will find the basic experience of online enrollment is largely unchanged.

The best resource for Oregonians is to first go to to Oregonhealthcare.gov rather than straight to the more publicized federal Healthcare.gov. At the Oregon site, they can learn whether they qualify for subsidies and how much.

In Oregon, the available subsidies are different than planned because of a recent decision by the state to respond to cuts in cost-sharing subsidies by the Trump administration. State administrators decided to allow higher rates on some plans in order to boost tax credits that reduce premiums for people with low incomes.

For instance, a single individual who earns less than $48,240 could qualify for assistance, or a family of three that makes less than $81,680.

Last year, more than 150,000 enrolled using the Oregon Health Insurance Marketplace, and about three-quarters of them qualified for assistance. Meanwhile, more than 93,000 enrolled without it, buying directly from health insurance companies.

The government marketplace is for those who intend to seek subsidies, and provides access only to insurance companies that have sought to be on the marketplace. Other insurers only offer plans off the marketplace.

People seeking assistance to work with the Oregon Health Insurance Marketplace can talk to either a certified agent or a "community partner" organization. A list can be found at OregonHealthCare.gov/gethelp.

For more information on health rates on plans, go to

Oregonhealthrates.com.

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