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The DOJ delivers the Comey memos to Congress. Also on our rundown: More evidence that rent prices are out of reach in many markets; Wisconsin counties brace for sulfide mining; and the Earth Day focus this weekend in North Dakota is on recycling.

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Open Enrollment Deadline Looms

Free help is available via phone or in person this week as the deadline to enroll in health coverage plans under the Affordable Care Act approaches at midnight on Friday. (Lidor/flickr)
Free help is available via phone or in person this week as the deadline to enroll in health coverage plans under the Affordable Care Act approaches at midnight on Friday. (Lidor/flickr)
December 14, 2017

RALEIGH, N.C. -- If you haven't already signed up for health coverage through Healthcare.gov and haven't secured insurance for 2018, time is running out. The deadline to sign up on the federal health exchange is midnight Friday.

With the enrollment period six weeks shorter than it was in prior years, state agencies and consumer groups are working hard to make sure people take action. There are concerns that higher premiums may deter some people from even looking into a plan.

But Walker Wilson, assistant secretary for policy at the state Department of Health and Human Services, said it is worth a look.

"The cost of coverage may go up for certain people based on the insurance carriers who are making plans available on the healthcare.gov website,” Wilson said. “But people who qualify for a subsidy, their out-of-pocket cost may not change at all."

On Tuesday, Governor Cooper asked the federal government to extend the open enrollment period for a week, but there's no indication that request will be granted.

There is free help available, both in person and over the phone. More information can be found at NCNavigator.net or by calling 855-733-3711 to speak with trained enrollment navigators.

According to published reports, as of December 2, just over 209,000 people in North Carolina had signed up for 2018 insurance through the exchange, compared to 500,000 signed up during last years open enrollment. Scott Mulhauser, a board member at Consumers for Quality Care, urged people to take action.

"You're in these final days and final hours, and Friday night is the deadline, and so it's critical that folks just take a look, they go online and they make sure that they're covered, they're family is covered,” Multiuser said. "Use this open enrollment period to make it work for you. "

Wilson said the state has been able to encourage involvement in the past, and she's hoping the trend will continue.

"North Carolina has been one of the highest enrollment states where we've moved more people from the uninsured category to the insured category,” Walker said. “And I think that's in part due to the statewide focus on this and the local partnerships where there are people who are on the ground helping people enroll. "

Nationwide, as of this week, 4.7 million people have signed up for health care through the exchange. Some states with their own health exchanges - which North Carolina does not have - were able to extend their enrollment period until December 22.

Reporting by North Carolina News Connection in association with Media in the Public Interest and funded in part by the Park Foundation.

Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - NC