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Enrollment ends at midnight Thursday for consumers who missed purchasing federally required 2015 health coverage at HealthCare.gov because they didn't know about the new insurance requirements.

Consumers who enroll by the end of Thursday can avoid paying a penalty for not having health insurance during the 2015 tax year, when the cost will rise sharply. But they'll still be on the hook for lacking insurance in 2014, unless they qualify for a special exemption.

The original enrollment period ran from Nov. 15, 2014, until Feb. 15. To enroll now, consumers must not already be enrolled in a plan they purchased at HealthCare.gov for 2015. They must be subject to a penalty for going without insurance from a month or more during 2014. And they must have missed enrolling because they didn't know they were required to have health insurance.

Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, a consumer health care advocacy group, encouraged people to take advantage of what could be the last chance for many Americans to sign up. People who get married, add a baby or lose their employer-paid health benefits will still be able to enroll.

"Although there are other means to qualify for a special enrollment period, this is the last chance to act for consumers who didn't sign up for coverage in 2014," Pollack said in a statement. "It's important that they consider all their options, whether they are eligible for financial assistance, the cost of the penalty they would be liable to pay, and the protection they forgo if they don't enroll in coverage."

The penalty for 2014, called a "shared responsibility payment," starts at $95 per adult, or 1 percent of income, whichever is greater. For 2015, the penalty will be $325 per adult, or 2 percent of income, whichever is greater.

Marianne Udow-Phillips, director of the University of Michigan's Center for Healthcare Research and Transformation, said plenty of people are still learning the details of the federal Affordable Care Act. But enrollment has been high in Michigan and continues to increase, she added.

A center analysis found that Michigan enrollment at HealthCare.gov was up 25.2 percent in 2015 from the previous year. ZIP codes with the largest enrollment boosts were in Hudsonville, West Bloomfield, Macomb Township, Grand Blanc and Howell, with increases ranging from 34.7 percent higher in West Bloomfield to 87.8 percent higher in Hudsonville.

Five Detroit ZIP codes had the greatest enrollment declines, with decreases ranging from -21 percent to -26.6 percent.

"We exceeded the enrollment trends from last year," Udow-Phillips said. "Now we're continuing to see an upswing in the number of people who are insured. (But) there are still many people out there who are not insured and who are unaware."

kbouffard@detroitnews.com

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