According to polls, few people understand the controversial Affordable Care Act or Obamacare, as it is commonly called. However, on October 1, the approximately 48 million Americans who don't have health insurance can begin to enroll in insurance plans in state-based exchanges or marketplaces. The government site Healthcare.gov will provide information and links for signing up.
To help with the confusion, the government has also set up call centers to help people with open enrollment. Call 1-800-318-2596 (TTY: 1-855-889-4325). The number is staffed around-the-clock. Information is available in more than 150 languages.
There will also be specially trained advisers, called navigators, to help, free of charge, in your community. There will be federally authorized marketplace-designated organizations based in community health centers, malls, drug stores and in churches. Depending on state law, traditional agents and insurance brokers can also help you understand Obamacare.
Several healthcare plan levels will be available and all will offer free preventive care. Costs will vary in deductibles and co-pays but health insurance companies are required to accept everyone regardless of preexisting conditions. Buying into Obamacare through exchanges rather than directly from an insurance company, will likely make you eligible for tax breaks and subsidies to pay for your insurance. Some Americans earning less than 133% of poverty level may be eligible for Medicaid through state expansions, and others making less than 400% of poverty level may be eligible for government help in paying for premiums. Plans bought between October 1 and December 14 will become effective on January 1, 2014.
Those who don't get insurance will report that on their 2014 tax return and pay a penalty. A very few Americans will be exempt from the health insurance mandate and includes those who make so little they don't have to file a tax return.