Earlier this month the federal government announced that the number of Americans who purchased their health insurance through the new federal and state Marketplaces more than doubled from October to November. It's good news, but there are many more people still without coverage. According to a recent report, in southeastern Pennsylvania more than 276,000 adults don't have coverage.

Having insurance is more than just a safety net if something catastrophic should happen. It's about being able to go to the doctor for routine preventive care to keep you healthy. For example, women in our region with insurance are much more likely to have routine cancer screenings such as mammograms or Pap Tests.

So, for those who have been postponing shopping for health insurance, now is the time. The deadline is fast approaching. Consumers must sign-up by December 23 to have coverage on January 1. There are still a few challenges with the federal government's website healthcare.gov, but it has improved and is getting better every day.

Before logging on to buy health insurance, here are a few tips to help make the experience move more quickly and easily. If everything is working smoothly, the process takes between 45 minutes to an hour.

Have the right information ready.
Take a few minutes and gather this information before you log on. Having this handy will save time:

  • Date of birth for everyone who will be covered under the plan.

  • Social security number for everyone who will be covered under the plan.

  • Annual household income.

  • Most recent tax returns for the household. Consumers may be asked how much interest you pay on your student loans, or other financial questions.

Time your visit wisely. Use healthcare.gov during off-hours, before 9am or after 6pm. The site is the busiest during the daytime.

Pick the right browser. Google Chrome seems to work better than some other Web browsers for healthcare.gov.

Figure out whether you need to buy insurance through healthcare.gov. Consumers only need to go to healthcare.gov if they are eligible for financial assistance (such as tax credits and subsidies) to pay for insurance coverage. If they aren't eligible for financial assistance, they can shop with insurers directly and save time. To quickly find out if you are eligible for financial help, use our subsidy calculator on www.ibx4you.com.

Speak to an agent in person. On December 23 IBC's mobile education center, the Independence Express, a web-capable, ADA compliant truck, staffed with licensed sales agents and knowledgeable health care reform experts, will be open and enrolling consumers on the last day to apply for coverage effective January 1. Visit the truck at the Haverford Area YMCA, 891 N. Eagle Road in Havertown, PA, any time from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and a licensed sales agent can help you sign up for coverage.

From Obamacare to Medicare to managed care, read more of The Field Clinic here »