A "godsend." That's how Chuck Moline describes the expanded financial assistance available to many who buy health insurance on their own instead of getting it through an employer, Medicare or other public programs.

Moline owns AdvisorNet Financial in Austin, Minn. The small business, located across the street from the SPAM Museum, is a MNsure broker enrollment center, meaning it provides free assistance to those buying health insurance on the state-run individual insurance marketplace. Right now, it's crunch time. Enrollment opened Nov. 1 to buy coverage for 2022.

Moline's advice: There are great deals available. If your income previously was too high to qualify for financial tax credits — aid that instantly discounts monthly premiums — you might now be eligible. If you have qualified previously, you might be able to upgrade to a plan offering fewer out-of-pocket costs or other improvements.

"We called clients who had previously fallen off that cliff, where they didn't get a tax credit. Many are surprised to see it lowered their premiums exponentially," he said.

Minnesotans could see serious savings, but action is needed. Just like retail sales, this is a limited time offer. Minnesotans have until Jan. 15 to shop for bargains on 2022 coverage on MNsure, though the deadline is Dec. 15 for coverage to kick in on Jan. 1.

About 163,000 Minnesotans, or 3%, buy coverage on their own. Open enrollment is the annual window to shop and buy coverage for the year ahead.

The 2010 Affordable Care Act (ACA) was a game-changer for many who buy on the individual market. It provides tax credits to reduce monthly premiums, along with other aid that can help offset out-of-pocket expenses such as deductibles or copays. But eligibility for the tax credits cut off — until this year — at 400% of federal poverty level, or $51,520 annually for an individual and $69,680 for a household of two.

That cutoff is the "cliff" Moline refers to, and it left too many without affordable coverage. It especially hit young retirees hard. Those under 65 are too young for Medicare, but still in need of affordable coverage. Many still earned too much to qualify for ACA subsidies.

Fortunately, the American Rescue Plan temporarily remedied that. The pandemic relief plan passed earlier this year enhanced ACA subsidies and expanded eligibility for them. Specifically, it removed the 400% federal poverty level cap on eligibility.

The changes remain in place for 2022 coverage but expire afterward unless Congress extends them. Lawmakers should not hesitate to do this.

Moline's business serves southern Minnesota, which has historically had some of the state's highest individual market premiums. He also works with many people in their early 60s. He gave an example of one couple who have benefited from the changes.

They earned around $65,000 a year, so they did not previously qualify for financial assistance for monthly insurance premiums. Thanks to the American Rescue Plan changes, they are now eligible for about $1,800 a month in aid. That reduces their monthly household health insurance premium cost to $374.

While the cost of individual market plans in Minnesota rose from 4% to 11% for 2022 coverage depending on the insurer, enhanced subsidies and expanded eligibility should cushion many family budgets. Other good news: Consumers have abundant choices, with at least 19 plans available in every Minnesota county.

Plan comparison help like that provided by Moline is available and free across Minnesota. Assistance and enrollment events can be found on the MNsure website at bit.ly/3EM7tdP. One important note: The financial aid is available only for plans sold through MNsure.

Consumers shouldn't leave money on the table. Take advantage of the aid while it's there. Said Moline: "This is a really big deal."