Time's almost up.
Monday is the last chance for consumers to sign up for Obamacare insurance that starts Jan. 1 under the federal healthcare law.
Last-minute shoppers should prepare for busy signals if they call the Covered California insurance exchange, or for long waits at some enrollment events.
There's been a sharp increase in applications in recent days ahead of Monday's deadline for January coverage, according to state officials, agents and enrollment counselors. More than 53,000 people enrolled in health plans over a three-day period last week.
"The pace is frenetic right now," said Dede Kennedy-Simington, a vice president at Polenzani Benefits in Pasadena who has been working at numerous enrollment events. "There's growing interest, not from a sense of desperation, but from a desire to get it done."
If you miss this deadline, there will be other opportunities. Open enrollment lasts through March 31 under the Affordable Care Act.
Here are five things to know for Monday's deadline:
1. The Shop and Compare tool at the state website, www.coveredca.com, is a good place to start.
You can get a quick idea of health plan options and prices in your area and what government assistance you may be eligible for. You can do all that without having to create an account or complete a lengthy application.
2. Filling out an application and selecting an insurance plan takes time.
Some individuals can get through the process in 30 to 45 minutes, but agents and enrollment counselors warn that it could take up to two hours for some families to enter their information and sort through the various coverage options.
It takes extra time, in particular, when some family members qualify for Medi-Cal and others need to purchase regular health insurance.
3. Applying over the phone or on paper may not be your best bet.
The Covered California service-center number is 800-300-1506. But the average wait time has been more than 30 minutes, if you get through at all.
"Our staff is working at top speed to answer questions and process all the applications," said Peter Lee, executive director of Covered California.
The exchange said it is still accepting paper applications Monday, but it recommended that people go online instead so they can get immediate feedback on whether the application includes all the required information.
4. There may be help nearby.
Statewide, thousands of county health workers, enrollment counselors and state-certified insurance agents are sitting down with folks and helping them enroll. Many of them are working at special enrollment events Monday at libraries, community centers, clinics and other locations.
This link at the Covered California website can give you names and locations for assistance near you.
5. Don't forget to pay.
Health insurers won't start coverage until you pay the first month's premium. In California, the deadline to pay that first premium is Jan. 6, with coverage retroactive to Jan. 1.
The exchange says insurers should send out member identification cards and an enrollment packet within 10 days of receiving payment.
Some consumers who enrolled weeks ago have complained about not getting a bill yet from their insurer. People should contact the insurance company, not the exchange, about billing matters.
After Monday, the next sign-up deadline is Jan. 15 for insurance starting Feb. 1.