Navigating Obamacare

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NEW YORK (MainStreet) – The Affordable Care Act. Obamacare. Whatever you call it, it's happening.

 

Beginning in 2014, all Americans will be required to have health insurance. Anyone who doesn't have coverage will have to pay a fine. If you already have health insurance through your employer, not much will change. According to a recent survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 57% of Americans fall into this category.

If you don't have coverage through an employer, you'll need to get familiar with the Health Insurance Marketplace, sometimes called the Exchange. The marketplace simplifies the search for health insurance by gathering all available options in one place and explaining them in easy to understand language. You can compare costs and benefits across plans, as well as apply and enroll in your chosen plan. This must take place during the open enrollment period, which lasts from October through March of next year.

Navigating the system is fairly straightforward, but if you've got questions, we've got answers.

Each state has its own version of the Health Insurance Marketplace. You can find your state's marketplace by going to HealthCare.gov and clicking on "get insurance."

Under the Affordable Care Act, some people will end up paying more for insurance while others will pay less. In some cases, tax credits will be available to reduce the cost of health insurance premiums. You can use the Kaiser Family Foundation subsidy calculator to find out if you qualify.

The Marketplace breaks down plans into four categories: bronze, silver, gold and platinum. All plans offer the same essential benefits as well as the same quality of care. The only difference is in the way you pay for your health care. Bronze plans have lower monthly premiums, but higher out-of-pocket costs.

Platinum plans have the most expensive premiums, but you'll pay less when you require medical care.

The key to saving money on health insurance is identifying your needs.

Those who rarely visit the doctor can minimize costs by choosing a plan with a low monthly premium. You'll pay a bit more when you do go to the doctor, but you'll still end up saving in the long run. Just make sure you have an emergency fund in case something happens and unexpected medical costs arise.

On the other hand, if you're a regular in the doctor's office, it's worth it to invest in a higher premium plan. By paying more on a monthly basis you'll pay a smaller percentage of your bills. If your health care costs are high, this can be a huge financial benefit.

If you still have questions about the Health Insurance Marketplace, customer service representatives are available 24 hours a day to help. You can call 1-800-318-2596 or visit HealthCare.Gov to chat online with a representative.

--Written by Lauren Lyons Cole for TheStreet

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