healthcare signupAmandaJean Beaulieu, a 32-year-old stroke survivor, welcomed 2015 with one less thing to worry about—health insurance coverage.

Despite her pre-existing medical condition that deemed her too high of a risk under previous insurance plans, she – like the 7.3 million uninsured Americans with a history of heart disease – is now eligible for insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

Americans can enroll in insurance coverage until Feb. 15. They can review and compare different health plan options at or at their state’s health insurance marketplace before enrolling in a plan.

After the deadline, people will have to wait until 2016 to get insurance unless they qualify for special enrollment due to life-changing events, such as divorce, having a baby or job loss.

Beaulieu said the paperwork might seem daunting, but the insurance changed her life. After surviving a stroke and pulmonary embolism in October 2009, Beaulieu left her job and its health insurance benefit the next year.

As a contract worker, her jobs did not provide health insurance coverage and she struggled to pay for her prescriptions and medical care out of pocket.

She found herself choosing between buying medications and paying household bills. She skipped doctor appointments because she couldn’t afford the visits.

Then in 2013, she signed up for coverage under the Affordable Care Act and now pays about $152.62 per month.

“I called Health Partners and spoke to customer service to make sure the low premium wasn’t a mistake,” said Beaulieu, who lives and works in Minneapolis, Minnesota. “It was real and I started crying on the phone. The Affordable Care Act made the insurance marketplace an even playing field for everyone. The low-cost insurance meant I did not have to jump into the next full time position I could find, I could actually hold out for the job I wanted. ”

The American Heart Association advocated for the passage of the Affordable Care Act, which was signed into law in March 2010. A Under the law, insurance companies cannot charge people, including heart disease and stroke patients, higher premiums because of their conditions, a rule that took effect in 2014. Moreover, no one can be turned down for coverage, and low- and middle-income individuals and families who don’t receive coverage from their employers may be eligible for financial assistance in the form of a Health Insurance Premium Tax Credit.

The current open enrollment period presents an opportunity for anyone lacking coverage, including individuals with high blood pressure or who have had a heart attack or stroke, to sign up for health insurance coverage and receive preventive care and medical treatment.

“Having health insurance is very important for heart health because it provides patients access to preventive services to reduce their risks for complications or a second cardiovascular event and improves their chances of surviving situations such as a heart attack or stroke,” said Stephanie Mohl, senior government relations advisor for the AHA in Washington, D.C. “Health insurance coverage is also important for young people as it gives them access to a full range of preventive care so that they can best reduce their risks for acquiring heart disease.”

Financial assistance is available to qualified patients and consumers, and application counselors are available to help enrollees. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has reported that nearly 6.5 million people signed up for or renewed coverage for 2015 since the beginning of open enrollment. Of those who had signed up by Dec. 15, 87 percent of the enrollees qualified for financial assistance to lower their monthly payments, compared to the 80 percent who had selected plans during a similar period the previous year.

For stroke survivors like Beaulieu, the Affordable Care Act has been a medical, financial and emotional relief.

“I no longer have to worry about ‘How am I going to pay for health insurance’ or ‘How am I going to pay for my medicine?'” says Beaulieu. “I no longer have to hold out on going to the doctor because I can afford it. I can finally truly put my health first.”