Summer always seems to go by so quickly. Before we know it, the beginning of the school year is here and that’s why Arizonans should take steps today to make sure their families have health coverage heading into the school year.

Regardless of whether your children are just starting elementary school or college, whether they play sports or choose to participate in other extracurricular activities that don’t involve the great outdoors, it’s a good idea to make sure they have health insurance. Arizona families now have options that make their health coverage affordable.

A lot of things change for Arizonans between the months of May and August, some of which may trigger opportunities for new health coverage to meet families’ and individuals’ needs. Even though the open enrollment period — the six-month window that allowed eligible consumers to purchase coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace — has ended, there are some exceptions that will allow people who are experiencing life-changing events to shop for a Marketplace plan using a “Special Enrollment Period” (SEP).

The good news is that people who move here anew or relocate from another county may be eligible for a limited time SEP; even better news is that those who qualify may be able to get financial assistance to pay a portion of the cost of a health plan. Marketplace data found that overall, more than three-quarters of the 120,000 Arizonans who bought health coverage through the Marketplace (from Oct. 1, 2013 – March 31, 2014) received at least some financial help, while about half were able to get a plan for less than $100 a month. In most counties of the state, consumers have about 100 plans to choose from, providing a wide variety of options for everyone. A SEP gives families and individuals up to 60 days to choose and pay for the plan of their choice.

A SEP can be especially advantageous for qualified, uninsured families looking for health coverage. Children’s dental and vision services are considered essential benefits, thus are included in dependent plans purchased through the Marketplace, while adults can add dental and vision coverage through a separate plan.

For those who are income-eligible, applying for Medicaid through the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS) is also an option. A family of three with an income of as much as $26,000 a year may qualify for the program, which offers low- to no-cost medical plans. Requirements for AHCCCS differ from those in the Marketplace and applications can be submitted at any time, with no need to wait for open enrollment or a Special Enrollment Period; this makes the beginning of the school year a perfect time to start the process. For more information on AHCCCS and how to apply, visit their website at

Now is an opportune time to enroll in coverage, before it falls off the list of priorities when family life gets too hectic. None of us should have to spend time worrying that a visit to the emergency room or a series of diagnostic tests, such as X-rays for a potentially broken arm from playing football or a sprained ankle from falling off a bike, will bankrupt us. We all hope to never need a trip to an emergency room or other medical services that could cost thousands of dollars, but it’s good to have peace of mind that we’re covered if we do.

• Cheryl O’Donnell is Arizona state director for Get Covered America, a national, grass-roots campaign of Enroll America, focused on educating consumers about the benefits of health coverage and the new health insurance options available under the Affordable Care Act.

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