Deadline to sign up for health insurance program is Dec. 15.

Louisiana residents who rely on Obamacare for health insurance have through Dec. 15 to enroll for the coming year.

Open enrollment began Thursday through the Affordable Care Act, which covers more than 100,000 Louisiana residents.

During the enrollment period, individuals and families who do not receive coverage through their employers can buy insurance through the online Health Insurance Marketplace.

“We’re seeing rate decreases for the first time in quite a while in the Louisiana Individual Market,” Louisiana Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon said Thursday in a news release. “It’s important to allow plenty of time to understand your coverage options and determine what works best for you. If you have questions, a licensed health insurance agent can help you explore your choices and also help you determine if you’re eligible to receive financial assistance paying your premium.”

The Health Insurance Marketplace, healthcare.gov, was established by the Affordable Care Act, passed by Congress in 2010. It allows consumers to compare health insurance plans based on key factors including providers, coverage and price.

Two companies, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Louisiana and Vantage Health Plan, are offering a total of 46 individual marketplace plans in the state for 2019. Plan availability may vary across ZIP codes.

The average cost for individual plans will decrease 6.4 percent statewide compared to this year, Donelon said. For small group plans, costs are expected to increase 0.1 percent.

Americans with incomes between 138 percent and 400 percent of the federal poverty level may qualify for federal subsidies to help pay for health insurance. This year, those incomes range from about $16,000 to $448,000 for an individual. About 85 percent of Louisiana residents qualified for a subsidy this year.

People earning less than 138 percent of the federal poverty level are eligible for Medicaid, the taxpayer-subsidized health insurance program for low-income residents.

In Louisiana, the average individual policy through the ACA costs $648 a month without a subsidy this year, federal data show. That cost drops to $201 when subsidies and tax credits are applied.

Donelon offered these tips as enrollment begins:

-- If you do not elect coverage by Dec. 15, you will be unable to get healthcare coverage for 2019. Rare exceptions may apply to people who have a so-called "life change," such as marriage, having a baby or losing other coverage. Coverage for plans sold during open enrollment will start Jan. 1.

-- For the first time this year, there will not be a penalty for not having minimum essential coverage. In the past, consumers would pay a penalty if they were not enrolled in a health plan. If you don't have coverage for 2019, you'll be on your own for major health care costs, but you won't be penalized at tax time.

-- Check any plans you are considering for 2019 for your choice of doctors and hospitals. Coverage that does not include the hospital down the street, but does cover the hospital across town, may not be the right fit for you. To learn more, visit the state Insurance Department website at ldi.la.gov/checknetwork.