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Obamacare exchanges: What you need to know when they open Oct. 1, 2013

Teresa Tanoos's picture
Open enrollment under Obamacare schedule to open Oct. 1, 2013

In 2010, Congress passed the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, which is supposed to offer health insurance to over 48 million Americans who currently don’t have it.

What many don’t like about the federal health law is that it’s mandatory, and there will be a penalty to pay for not signing up for health insurance.

However, you need not be concerned if you already have health insurance through an employer – but if you don’t have insurance, you’ll need to go to the exchanges when open enrollment starts tomorrow, October 1, 2013. Otherwise, you’ll have to pay a penalty for not signing up.

There are a few exceptions for being required to have coverage under Obamacare. For example, undocumented workers, Native Americans and those with religious issues can all be exempted from having to have health insurance.

Nevertheless, Obamacare remains confusing for most Americans, whereas others admit to being downright clueless about what it is and how the exchanges work.

According to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation/NBC survey, over 50 percent of Americans said they were worried about the Affordable Care Act, while just under half said they were confused. Another 29 percent reported they were angry over the health law, whereas only 24 percent said they were enthusiastic.

Of those surveyed, nearly 75 percent said they were very or somewhat worried about having to pay more, not just for their health insurance, but also for their health care because they’re concerned that their income won’t be able to keep up with rising medical costs.

At the centerpiece of this sweeping legislation called Obamacare are the exchanges, which are essentially online marketplaces where you can shop for health insurance by going to your state’s website to choose from a variety of plans, then customizing the one you determine best suits your needs.

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Remember, the exchanges open for sign up tomorrow, October 1, 2013, although the benefits won’t kick in until January 1, 2013.

One aspect of Obamacare that most Americans like is that you can no longer be denied health care coverage if you have a pre-existing condition. In other words, if you have a history of disease – whether it’s cancer, diabetes, heart disease, or some other health condition – you can still get insurance, and you won’t have to worry about paying a higher cost for your monthly premium, as you get to choose from the same plans offered to everyone else in your state.

Another benefit of the health care law, especially for those with pre-existing conditions and women in their childbearing years, is you’ll have better access to screening.

But for older Americans on Medicare, there’s a downside because that doughnut hole of prescription drug coverage is no longer there. However, if you’re already on Medicare, you can rest assured that you’re already covered, so you don’t have to be concerned with signing up for insurance – and, better yet, you may actually see some additional benefits as they pertain to check-ups and drug coverage.

In the meantime, the biggest question Americans have about Obamacare is how much is it going to cost and who is going to pay for it?

For consumers, the cost of the monthly premium they have to pay will depend on their income and the number of family members they plan to include under their coverage. While the federal government will help subsidize people in the form of tax breaks, it will be up to you to do the work required in order to see if you qualify. To get started, take your income and figure out how many family members you want to cover, then visit healthcare.gov to determine how much your monthly premium will cost to get the coverage you need.

If you do not have health insurance by 2014, you will be penalized when you file your tax return the following year. For an individual, the penalty will be a minimum of $95, or 1 percent of adjusted income (whichever is greater). For a family, the minimum penalty cannot be higher than $285, but it can go as high as 1 percent of adjusted family income.

And that’s just the beginning. By 2016, the penalty increases significantly, with a minimum penalty of $695 for adults – and for families, the minimum penalty will cost no more than $2,085, but it can go up to 2.5 percent of the family income (whichever is greater).

Affordable Health Care Act lives up to its name: What consumers should know

Reference: Kaiser Family Foundation
Image source: Wikipedia