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.

Finally, you can use ACA marketplaces outside of these open enrollment periods under certain circumstances. For example, people who move to a new state, get married or lose their job can qualify for a special enrollment period.

What's the Difference Between State and Federal Exchanges?

There's little structural difference between the state and federal marketplaces. For states which can't or won't set up their own insurance exchanges, the Department of Health and Human Services will run one instead. It will serve the same purpose as state-run marketplaces.

State-by-State Guide

This is a guide to each state's marketplace, along with contact information. Any state which has not set up a specific, independent exchange will qualify for the federally funded marketplace.

Federally Funded Marketplace (FFM)


Website: www.healthcare.gov
Telephone Number: 800-318-2596
Participating States: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah*, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming

 

California
Marketplace: Covered California.
Website: www.coveredca.com/
Telephone Number: 800-300-1506

Colorado
Marketplace: Connect for Health Colorado.
Website: www.connectforhealthco.com/
Telephone Number: 855-752-6749

Connecticut


Marketplace: Access Health CT
Website: www.accesshealthct.com/
Telephone Number: 855-805-4325

Washington D.C.


Marketplace: D.C. Health Link
Website: www.dchealthlink.com/
Telephone Number: 855-532-5465

Hawaii


Marketplace: Hawaii Health Connector
Website: www.hawaiihealthconnector.com/
Telephone Number: 808-260-9011

Idaho
Marketplace: Your Health Idaho
Website: www.yourhealthidaho.org
Telephone Number: 855-944-3246

Kentucky


Marketplace: Kentucky Health Benefit Exchange
Website: www.kynect.ky.gov
Telephone Number: 855-459-6328 (855-4kynect)

Maryland


Marketplace: Maryland Health Connection
Website: www.marylandhealthconnection.gov
Telephone Number: 855-642-8572

Massachusetts


Marketplace: The Health Connector
Website: www.mahealthconnector.org
Telephone Number: 877-623-6765

Minnesota
Marketplace: MNsure
Website: www.mn.gov/hix
Telephone Number: 855-366-7873

Nevada


Marketplace: Nevada Health Link
Website: www.nevadahealthlink.com
Telephone Number: 855-768-5465

New Mexico


Marketplace: New Mexico Health Insurance Exchange
Website: www.nmhix.com/
Telephone Number: None available at time of writing

New York


Marketplace: New York State of Health
Website: www.healthbenefitexchange.ny.gov/
Telephone Number: None available at time of writing

Oregon
Marketplace: Cover Oregon
Website: www.coveroregon.com/
Telephone Number: 855-268-3767

Rhode Island


Marketplace: HealthSource RI
Website: www.healthsourceri.com/
Telephone Number: 401-222-5192

Utah


Individual Marketplace: Federally Funded Marketplace
Website: www.healthcare.gov
Telephone Number: 800-318-2596

Small Business Marketplace: Avenue H
Website: www.avenueh.com/
Telephone Number: 877-213-1993

Vermont


Marketplace: Vermont Health Connect
Website: www.healthconnect.vermont.gov/
Telephone Number: 855-899-9600

Washington
Marketplace: Washington Healthplanfinder
Website: www.wahealthplanfinder.org/
Telephone: 855-923-4633 (855-wafinder)

--Written for MainStreet by Eric Reed, a freelance journalist who writes frequently on the subjects of career and travel. You can read more of his work at his website www.wanderinglawyer.com.

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