Everything You Need to Know About Obamacare State Exchanges
NEW YORK ( MainStreet) As you may know by now, the Affordable Care Act's (the ACA) state insurance exchanges will begin selling plans on October 1. When that happens, open enrollment will begin for individuals looking to buy insurance in advance of next year's mandate, and employers will be required to notify workers of their options.
Of course, with all of the discussion about the law's politics and impact, the mechanical pieces sometimes get left out of the conversation. In light of that, here's a quick guide to everything you'll need to know about finding and shopping with the ACA Insurance Exchanges.
What Exactly is a State Insurance Exchange?
The state insurance exchanges are open marketplaces where individuals can buy private health insurance under the ACA. The exchanges will centralize purchasing, so after filling out an application you can see all of the plans available in your state as well as any subsidies or government programs you might qualify for.
Plans available through state exchanges will be split into bronze, silver, gold and platinum levels. Although all will offer the same core benefits, these levels will reflect differences in premiums, co-pays and total out of pocket expenses. The exchanges will also offer catastrophic coverage for qualifying applicants.
The state exchanges are also, and somewhat less confusingly, known as the Health Insurance Marketplaces. As suggested by the name they are state-by-state programs, except for states which have elected not to set one up. In those cases there is a federal marketplace which serves the same purpose.
Who Uses Them?
Anyone who's buying his or her own insurance.
How Do You Use Them?
Marketplaces will have three ways of shopping for insurance: online, by phone or in person. The contact details are different for each state, so see our individual guide below for your local information. In-person shopping will take place through third parties called Navigators, agents who will provide a brick-and-mortar location for enrollment.
Once you've enrolled, coverage will begin on January 1, 2014. This session of open enrollment will close on March 31, 2014, and anyone who signs up for health care in January or February of next year should get coverage starting the following month.
"Open enrollment" is the period during which anyone can apply for insurance through an ACA marketplace. Starting in 2014, annual open enrollment will last from October 15 through December 7, with coverage beginning the following January.
Remember, this only applies to shopping for plans under the ACA. You can still buy health insurance directly through an insurance company at any time, it just won't necessarily come with all of the protections that the ACA provides.