Columbia, SC (WLTX) - Open enrollment for 2018 healthcare plans through the Affordable Care Act began Wednesday.

Here are five things you need to know before signing up:

NUMBER ONE: The enrollment period this year is from November 1-December 15.

"There is a very short window of six weeks to get enrolled,” Insurance Expert Joel Lourie with Lourie Life and Health.

"You have no ability to get in after that unless there's some sort of special circumstance like moving or losing group coverage," Lourie said.

NUMBER TWO: There is a penalty if you do not have health insurance.

"The penalty for not having health insurance still exists, it's a $695 penalty or up to 2.5% of your income if you don't have a qualified health plan,” the health insurance expert said.

NUMBER THREE: Your premium may go up but if you receive financial assistance, your discounts probably will too.

"As those premiums have gone up so has the discounts or the assistance they receive so most consumers will see very little change in their net premium,” he said.

NUMBER FOUR: Do not allow your health insurance plan to automatically re-enroll.

"For those clients that do not have financial assistance, do not let your insurance automatically reenroll, do some shopping and go off the marketplace to do it,” Lourie explained.

NUMBER FIVE: Get help!

"Seek help with somebody that understands what's going in with healthcare this year because it's very important,” he said. “You have a shorter window but yet you still need to get insured and get a plan that meets your needs and budget."

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