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WASHINGTON (AP) -- Sick of hearing about the health care law?

Plenty of people have tuned out after all the political jabber and website woes.

But now is the time to tune back in, before it's too late.

The big deadline is coming March 31.

By that day, for the first time, nearly everyone in the United States is required to be signed up for health insurance or risk paying a fine.

Here's what you need to know about this month's open enrollment countdown:

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ALREADY COVERED? NO WORRIES

Most people don't need to do anything. Even before the health care law passed in 2010, more than 8 out of 10 U.S. residents had coverage, usually through their workplace plans or the government's Medicare or Medicaid programs. Some have private policies that meet the law's requirements.

If you're already covered that way, you meet the law's requirements.

Since October, about 4 million people have signed up for private plans through the new state and federal marketplaces, the Obama administration says, although it's not clear how many were already insured elsewhere. In addition, many poor adults now have Medicaid coverage for the first time through expansions of the program in about half the states.

President Barack Obama is urging people who have coverage to help any uninsured friends and relatives get signed up.

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NEED COVERAGE? IT'S CRUNCH TIME

Chances are you'll hear more reminders about health care this month. The push is on to reach millions of uninsured people.

The administration, insurers, medical associations and nonprofit groups are teaming up with volunteers to get the word out and guide people through the sometimes-rocky enrollment process. They plan special events at colleges, libraries, churches and work sites.

Singing cats, dogs, parrots - even a goldfish - are promoting the message in TV and online spots from the Ad Council.

A big hurdle for the effort: As recently as last month, three-fourths of the uninsured didn't know there was a March 31 deadline, according to polling conducted for the Kaiser Family Foundation. Most said they didn't know much about the law and had an unfavorable opinion of it.

Plus, many worry they won't be able to afford the new plans.

The enrollment campaign is emphasizing that subsidies are available on a sliding scale to help low-income and middle-class households pay for their insurance.

How to enroll? Start at HealthCare.gov or by calling 1-800-318-2596. Residents of states running their own marketplaces will be directed there; people in other states go through the federal exchange.

After March 31, many people won't be able to get subsidized coverage this year, even if they become seriously ill.

The next open enrollment period is set to begin Nov. 15, for coverage in 2015.

---

DEADLINE DETAILS

There are exceptions. The big one is the Medicaid program for the poor. People who meet the requirements can sign up anytime, with no deadline.

Also, people remain eligible for Medicare whenever they turn 65.

If you are insured now and lose your coverage during the year, by getting laid off from your job, for example, you can use an exchange to find a new policy then. People can sign up outside the open enrollment period in special situations such as having a baby or moving to another state.

You can choose to buy insurance outside the marketplaces and still benefit from consumer protections in the law.

People who do that wouldn't normally be eligible for premium subsidies. But the Obama administration says exceptions will be made for people whose attempts to buy marketplace insurance on time were stymied by continuing problems with some enrollment websites.

---

MILLIONS OF PEOPLE WON'T GET COVERED

Some 12 million people could gain health coverage this year because of the law, if congressional auditors' predictions don't prove overly optimistic.

Even so, tens of millions still would go without.

That's partly because of immigrants in the country illegally; they aren't eligible for marketplace policies.

Some of the uninsured will not find out about the program in time, will find it confusing or too costly, or will just procrastinate too long. Some feel confident of their health and prefer to risk going uninsured instead of paying premiums. Others are philosophically opposed to participating.

Figuring out just how many of the uninsured got coverage this year won't be easy because the numbers are fuzzy.

The administration's enrollment count includes people who already were insured and used the exchanges to find a better deal, or switched from private insurance to Medicaid, or already qualified for Medicaid before the changes.

Some who sign up will end up uninsured anyway, if they fail to pay their premiums.

The budget experts predict enrollment will grow in future years and by 2017 some 92 percent of legal residents too young for Medicare will have insurance.

But even then, about 30 million people in the United States would go uncovered.

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SOME ARE LEFT OUT

A gap in the law means some low-income workers can't get help.

The insurance marketplaces weren't designed to serve people whose low incomes qualify them for expanded Medicaid instead. But some states have declined to expand their Medicaid programs. That means that in those states, many poor people will get left out.

People who fall into the gap won't be penalized for failing to get covered.

Some others are exempt from the insurance mandate, too: American Indians, those with religious objections, prisoners, immigrants in the country illegally, and people considered too poor to buy coverage even with financial assistance.

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THE IRS IS WATCHING YOU

The law says people who aren't covered in 2014 are liable for a fine. That amounts to $95 per uninsured person or approximately 1 percent of income, whichever is higher. The penalty goes up in later years.

A year from now, the Internal Revenue Service will be asking taxpayers filing their forms for proof of insurance coverage. Insurance companies are supposed to provide that documentation to their customers.

If you owe a penalty for being uninsured, the IRS can withhold it from your refund.

The agency can't put people in jail or garnishee wages to get the money. But it can withhold the penalty from a future year's tax refund.

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Follow Connie Cass on Twitter at HTTPS://TWITTER.COM/CONNIECASS

© 2014 THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. THIS MATERIAL MAY NOT BE PUBLISHED, BROADCAST, REWRITTEN OR REDISTRIBUTED. Learn more about our PRIVACY POLICY and TERMS OF USE.

Blues rally past Coyotes 4-2 in Miller's debut

Sunday, 02 March 2014 22:37 Published in Sports
 
GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) -- Patrik Berglund scored twice during St. Louis' four-goal, third-period rally and the Blues beat the Phoenix Coyotes 4-2 Sunday in goaltender Ryan Miller's debut.
 
Miller made 23 saves in his first game since being acquired by St. Louis in a five-player deal with Buffalo on Friday. In addition to posting a 284-186-57 record in 10-plus seasons, all with the Sabres, Miller entered the game 6-0-0 with a shutout and a 1.15 goals-against average in his career against Phoenix.
 
Kevin Shattenkirk and Magnus Paajarvi added goals for the Blues, who had been scoreless for a franchise record 187:44 before scoring three in a nine-plus minute span.
 
Jeff Halpern scored his 150th career goal and Paul Bissonnette added his first goal since Dec. 14 for the Coyotes, who have lost four straight and five of six.
 
Miller's St. Louis debut got off to a rocky start courtesy of an unlucky bounce less than three minutes into the game.
 
With a teammate skating down the slot, Bissonnette wristed a soft shot toward the net. St. Louis defenseman Barret Jackman, seemingly anticipating a harder attempt, dropped to the ice for the block. But the puck ticked off the prone Jackman's left skate and bounced off Miller's right shoulder and into the net for the goal and a 1-0 Phoenix lead at 2:56 of the first.
 
Halpern made it 2-0 at 7:09 of the second, slipping behind Shattenkirk after the Blues defenseman cleared Bissonnette from the front of the crease and scoring off Yandle's pass from the left boards.
 
But momentum turned quickly in the third.
 
Berglund took a backhand pass from Jaden Schwartz and beat Mike Smith from the left of the net to pull St. Louis within 3-1 at 3:18 of the third, his first goal in 17 games.
 
Just over four minutes later, Paajarvi rifled a shot past Smith from the middle of the faceoff circle to tie the game with 12:26 to go.
 
Shattenkirk gave the Blues their first lead of the game with 7:14 left when he took a pass at the point, skated into the left faceoff circle and took advantage of a screen from T.J. Oshie to score his first goal since Jan. 21.
 
Berglund capped the scoring with an unassisted goal with 1:39 left, jumping on a loose puck after Yandle was apparently tripped between the circles in the St. Louis zone and skating the length of the ice before scoring on a sharp wrist shot.
 
Smith made 26 saves for the Coyotes.
 
NOTES: The Blues have won four straight in Phoenix. . Shattenkirk's goal was his first since Jan. 23. . Bissonnette set a career high with his seventh point of the season. . Ott, who had been the Sabres' captain before the trade, also was making his St. Louis debut. . St. Louis' power-play goal was its first in its past 28 chances. . Phoenix has surrendered the lead in five of its past 11 games.

Holliday hits 2 doubles as Cardinals beat Mets

Sunday, 02 March 2014 22:36 Published in Sports
 
JUPITER, Fla. (AP) -- Matt Holliday doubled in both at-bats and drove in two runs Sunday for the St. Louis Cardinals in a 7-1 win over the New York Mets.
 
Holliday didn't play in the Cardinals' spring training opener on Friday. He singled and walked in two plate appearances as the designated hitter Saturday.
 
"I feel good," said Holliday, who played left field for the first time this spring. "It's two days into spring training, so I don't put too much into it, but having good at-bats is always a positive. You just try to roll it into the next day."
 
Holliday's first double came off starter Daisuke Matsuzaka, who's competing for the fifth spot in the Mets' rotation.
 
"I gave up a run in the first inning today, but I think all my pitches are very good at this point of the year except for my slider. I think that needs a little bit more work," Matsuzaka said through a translator.
 
A 30-pitch first inning that included two walks kept Cardinals starter Michael Wacha from getting out of the second. He reached his pitch cap after retiring the first two batters of the second without allowing a run.
 
"I was happy with it," Wacha said. "Arm felt great. Body felt great. Command wasn't where I wanted it to be. Hopefully that will come along."
 
STARTING TIME
 
New York: Manager Terry Collins liked what he saw out of Matsuzaka's first spring start. Collins said the chase for the fifth spot in the starting rotation will likely come down to Matsuzaka or John Lannan.
 
Matsuzaka began last season in the Cleveland minor league system before being granted his release. He sidestepped a question about his willingness to play in the minors again, saying, "I'll think about that if that happens."
 
Cardinals: Wacha has impressed manager Mike Matheny with the way he's handled expectations.
 
"I think he's got a maturity to him, especially as young as he is, to handle that distraction. Because that can be a distraction," Matheny said.
 
TRAINER'S ROOM
 
Mets: Shortstop Ruben Tejada was scratched from the lineup after he experienced a tight left hamstring during pregame workouts. Collins said Tejada was held out as a precaution. Tejada will not play in Monday's game against Atlanta, either.
 
Cardinals: Arm soreness slowed reliever Kevin Siegrist for a couple of days earlier this spring. The left-hander made his first Grapefruit League appearance on Sunday, allowing one hit in a scoreless ninth.
 
MR. MATCHUP
 
Randy Choate is the Cardinals' lefty specialist out of the bullpen, but early in spring he's facing both right-handed and left-handed hitters. Matheny said frequent lineup changes early in the spring make it difficult to play for matchups, so he would rather see Choate get his work regardless of the opposing hitter.
 
When minor league play begins, Choate may play in some of those games to get the desired lefty-lefty matchups, with Choate entering major league games later in the spring in situations that would mimic the regular season.
 
SPEED DEMON
 
Matheny said he's looking for offseason acquisition Peter Bourjos to be an offensive "menace." He wants Bourjos to grind out his at-bats and get on base, noting that the speedy Bourjos is in scoring position as soon as he gets on base. The Cardinals got him in the offseason trade that sent David Freese to the Angels.

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