When Dave Lain stepped aside as the Porter County sheriff last year because of term limits, he found himself uninsured.
He was eligible for a COBRA plan, but the premiums were too expensive.
So he looked to the Obamacare marketplace.
A local community health center helped him navigate the bureaucratic maze of signing up for coverage without knowing his expected income for the year. He found a plan that, with subsidies, costs him $244 a month. Without the Affordable Care Act, Lain might have just gone uninsured.
"Tell you the truth, I probably would have just toughed it out. I am healthy," said Lain, 61, of Valparaiso.
"I do plan on finding employment, but in the meantime I likely would have just toughed it out to save on premium costs."
The Obamacare marketplace starts its third year Sunday, with enrollment open through Jan. 31. Hoosiers can use HealthCare.gov to find out if they qualify for subsidized private coverage or government insurance like Medicaid. The fine for not having insurance in 2016 will be $695, or 2 percent of taxable income.
Many marketplace plans will be less expensive in Indiana this year.
The second-cheapest silver plans will cost, on average, 12.6 percent less than last year, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported, the highest decrease of any state. Plans in Oklahoma, for instance, rose by 35.7 percent.
The rate changes on individual plans range from a 19 percent decrease by MDWise Marketplace Inc., to a 13.5 percent increase by Physicians Health Plan of Northern Indiana Inc.
But residents of Indiana, and Illinois, will have less robust coverage options available on the marketplace this year, as Assurant no longer will be selling its PPO plan in Indiana, and Blue Cross Blue Shield reduced the number of providers in its most flexible Illinois plan, said Jeff Sopko, an insurance broker in Steger.
"What they're hurting is people in the middle of treatment who can no longer go back to that facility for treatment," he said.
"If your mom or dad were undergoing some sort of cancer treatment at University of Chicago hospital and had to stop, it would be devastating."
Many of the plans are now of the managed-care variety, with very limited provider networks, Sopko said.
Unlike the early years, consumers are likely going to pay closer attention to overall costs rather than just monthly premiums, said Brad Lacey, director of public exchanges for Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio for UnitedHealthcare.
"A lot of lessons were learned in 2014," he said. "You want to look at not only premiums but (also) deductibles, maximum out-of-pocket costs."
Some plans come with higher monthly premiums but may be cheaper in the long run because of the government cost-sharing provided on deductibles, Lacey noted. HealthCare.gov now has a calculator where users can compute their expected medical needs and costs for the coming year.
Federal officials say the website has more features and is much more user-friendly than in years past.
The marketplace's coverage gap no longer exists in Indiana, thanks to the expansion of the state's Medicaid program, known as the Healthy Indiana Plan, in early 2015. In previous years, many Hoosiers tried to enroll in the marketplace, only to find out they earned too much to qualify for traditional Medicaid, but not enough to be eligible for subsidies. Tens of thousands of Northwest Indiana residents have already signed up for the expanded program.
"A number of people we talk with thought they were eligible for the marketplace but are actually eligible for HIP," said Lauren Lamb, outreach and enrollment manager for HealthLinc, a federally qualified health center headquartered in Valparaiso.
Lauren Lovell, a marketplace navigator for Portage-based NorthShore Health Centers, has not only been helping the clinic's largely low-income clientele sign up for HIP but her adult kids as well.
Lovell's three children, who are in their early 20s and work low-paying jobs, previously fell in that gap between traditional Medicaid and subsidized marketplace insurance. All three now have HIP.
Her sons got glasses they didn't know they needed. Her daughter sought treatment for an ongoing medical issue.
"She just told me last month that she went and got her annual exam done," Lovell said.
"She feels better now. She was having seizures and we didn't know why. She was able to get the care she needs, and it's not hurting her financially. That was just a great thing."