Obamacare — October 1, 2013 at 12:44 pm

The new affordable health insurance marketplace is here!


For millions of people who are uninsured or can’t afford to buy insurance on their own, the day has come: You’re somebody.

If you’ve lived without insurance or, like me, pay exorbitant rates because you buy individual insurance or have a pre-existing condition, October 1, 2013, is a day to celebrate. It means you’re no longer a nobody in the eyes of insurance companies. You can step right up and buy insurance coverage you can afford.

Even better, it’s going to be so easy to shop for coverage that you don’t have to be an expert to do it.

I could delve into the absurd lengths Republicans have gone to in an attempt to sabotage the law. But plenty of others, including my colleagues here at Eclectablog, have got that covered.

Right now, I’m all about making sure everyone knows how to get covered, by shopping the new Obamacare marketplaces. If you’ve bought your own insurance before, it’s pretty much the same, just less expensive. But if you haven’t bought insurance (or if it’s been a while), here are a few tips.

Head on over to HealthCare.gov. That’s the online marketplace where you can compare plans and sign up for one that fits your needs. If you’d rather do it by phone or in person, the website gives you phone numbers and locations in your community you can visit. The site may be pretty busy at first — popular demand is good news! — but you have six months to enroll, so just be patient.

Also, if you live in Michigan you can do a rough estimate HERE, where I learned that my rate will likely drop from the current $1,400/month I pay to just under $600/month. I have diabetes and am self-employed, so right now I pay top dollar for what would be a “Platinum” plan under Obamacare. (Details on the plan levels below.)

I’m already doing a happy dance, but I realize there are other factors to consider when buying insurance. I want to know exactly what that $600/month will cover. So here are the variables I’ll be considering — and you should, too.

What’s your monthly budget? Your insurance will have a monthly premium. But some plans will also have a deductible you have to meet before every service is fully covered. Many plans also charge a co-pay for some items, such as prescriptions. But with Obamacare, certain services — like annual check-ups, cancer screenings, flu vaccines and more — are included with no co-pay or deductible, no matter what plan you buy.

What level of coverage do you want? The marketplaces will offer Bronze-, Silver-, Gold- and Platinum-level plans. Bronze plans have the lowest-priced monthly premiums. Platinum plans have the highest-priced monthly premiums. But as with anything else, you get what you pay for. Bronze plans will tend to have higher deductibles and co-pays. Platinum-level plans will generally have lower deductibles and co-pays, and some may offer additional services. “Catastrophic” plans are also available for people under 30 years old or with limited incomes, which protect you only in the event of an emergency or specific circumstances.

How do you want to spend your healthcare dollars? Would you rather have a pretty predictable monthly cost because you have a pre-existing condition with expensive medications or treatments? A Platinum plan may make the most sense. If you’re young and healthy, a Bronze plan may be your best bet, because you’ll only have to pay more if you get sick. Gold and Silver plans fall somewhere in between. That’s the beauty of Obamacare: You’ll have choices, so you can tailor your coverage to your needs.

Do you care about being able to see the same doctors you do now? Be sure to check that any policy you buy lets you do that. This has always been something to remember when you change insurance plans, and many plans on the marketplace will let you keep the doctors you have today.

Will you qualify for tax subsidies? Depending on your income level, the base price of a plan may actually be reduced if you qualify. The HealthCare.gov website, phone advisors or in-person local navigators can help you with that.

Remember that coverage doesn’t actually start until January 1, 2014. If you have coverage now, keep it until you confirm the start date for your new insurance. Also remember that the plans you’re purchasing through the marketplace are not government-sponsored programs, unless you qualify for Medicaid. They’re private insurance offered through a program that increases choice and competition.

Have other questions? Ask them in the comments. I’ll continue sharing helpful hints for using the marketplaces in future posts. Because the best way to make sure Obamacare succeeds is for everyone who is eligible to take advantage of it.

Just do it. It’s good for you.

[Photo credit: Donna Cymek | Flickr]