As of October 1st, the new Obamacare online health-insurance exchanges are open for enrollment.
They’ve caused their fair share of controversy, with the government shutting down today after the Senate refused to pass changes to the Obamacare plan proposed by the House of Representatives that were linked to a key budget vote.
But, for those who will use the new exchanges to buy healthcare coverage, the headlines also ought to cover how they work, and what they mean.
If you’re unsure, you’re certainly not alone. According to a new Kaiser Family Foundation/NBC survey, about half of Americans are simply confused by the new law. At the same time, nearly three-quarters of survey participants said they were very, or at least somewhat, worried about what this actually means for their budgets.
So, how does today’s opening affect you?
First, if you already receive health insurance through your employer—or are eligible for federal programs like Medicare or Medicaid—hold tight, as you won’t be affected just yet. (Of course, the Affordable Care Act does contain new rules concerning health insurance in general, but those changes won’t go into effect until January 1st.)
However, if you are among the about 15% of Americans who currently don’t have insurance, now is the time to start purchasing your health plans through the marketplace.
How Can I Purchase Health Insurance?
When you’re planning your next big trip, you likely hit sites like Expedia or Travelocity to compare the prices of airline flights and score the best deal. And these new exchanges are similar to that system: The online marketplace lets users comparison shop for insurance polices.
But just how much will those plans cost? Well, that will depend—on everything from where you live and your family size to lifestyle factors like whether you smoke. However, you can no longer be denied for pre-existing health conditions.
According to MarketWatch, the average cost of a mid-level plan will be about $388 a month, not including out-of-pocket expenses. But costs will vary significantly. Head to the marketplace, www.healthcare.gov, to plug in your info and review options in your area—and their monthly costs.
This online marketplace will also help you figure out whether you qualify for government subsidies that can help to make your coverage more affordable. These subsidies will be available for citizens who earn up to 400% of the poverty level. That means you’ll qualify if you earn up to $94,000 per year for a family of four, or $46,000 for a single person. (Medicaid has also been expanded in some—but not all—states, and will now provide coverage for those who earn up to 133% of the poverty level—an income of about $16,000 for one individual.)
Of course, the new marketplace probably won’t be quite as simple (or fun) as purchasing roundtrip airfare for a trip to Hawaii. But protecting yourself with insurance is certainly an important to-do—as well as the new law. So, if you have specific questions you need help with, head to localhelp.healthcare.gov to find organizations and experts who can help you work out the details. You have until March 31, 2014 to enroll.
In the meantime, stay tuned for more upcoming LearnVest coverage on the Affordable Care Act—and how it impacts you.