Shop for insurance

Shop for a private insurance plan on the federal government's health insurance marketplace online, HealthCare.gov, by phone, 1-800-318-2596, or by calling a local insurance agent. You also can find free local help by using this tool on the federal government's website, www.localhelp.healthcare.gov.

You should not pay anyone for application assistance and should only disclose personal information, including your Social Security number, to someone you trust.

To read more of The Post and Courier's past coverage of the Affordable Care Act, go to www.postandcourier.com/obamacare.

If you still need to buy health insurance, the clock is ticking.

Most residents shouldn't worry about Obamacare's March 31 deadline because they're already insured, many of them through their employer, or by Medicare or Medicaid, but those who aren't could face a fine for failing to enroll in a plan by Monday.

This penalty, officially called the "individual shared responsibility payment," is $95 per adult and $47.50 per child, or 1 percent of your household's annual income.

Many consumers don't realize that the penalty they will owe is whichever of those two amounts is greater, said Colin Smoak, an adviser with McLaughlin, Smoak & Clarke Benefits in Mount Pleasant.

"You should see the looks on their faces when we tell them that," Smoak said. "For 99 percent of the people, it's going to be greater than $95."

For example, a single man who earns $40,000 a year would owe a $400 penalty if he doesn't sign up for insurance this year. The maximum penalty he would owe for failing to enroll is the "national average yearly premium for a bronze plan," according to HealthCare.gov, although the federal government does not make clear on its website how much that is.

While the 2014 penalty may still be less than paying for health insurance for a full year, Smoak said, the fines will continue to increase in 2015 and 2016.

"These people are making arbitrary decisions and not paying attention to their penalty math," he said.

The fine for failing to enroll is due during tax season next spring, but there are exceptions to the individual mandate. For example, individuals whose household income is less than $10,150 will not be penalized. Anyone who was uninsured in 2014 for fewer than three months won't be fined next year either.

The U.S. Census estimates there are more than 700,000 residents in South Carolina who are uninsured. Some of them fall below the federal poverty level, or qualify for another exemption, and will not owe a penalty.

For everyone else, though, it's crunch time. The federal government's recent enrollment report shows about 56,000 South Carolinians selected a plan on the exchange between October and February, although only some of them have paid for the insurance. Most qualified for a tax subsidy to offset the expense.

Patrice Smith, a certified health insurance application counselor, said her appointment schedule is booked through the March 31 deadline.

Smith assists patients with their health insurance applications at the Fetter Health Care Network in Charleston.

"It's going extremely well," Smith said during an Affordable Care Act forum at Roper Hospital on Wednesday. "I am literally overrun with people who are applying for health insurance for the first time."

Reach Lauren Sausser at 937-5598.