For the first time, millions of uninsured Americans will be able to go online to compare health insurance plans, find out if they are eligible for federal help in paying the premiums, and buy coverage.
The initial open enrollment period for these marketplaces, which operate as interactive web sites, runs from Oct. 1 through March 31. Under the law, most Americans are required to have insurance by Jan. 1, 2014, or face a fine, but officials have said those who are insured by April 1 won’t be penalized. Insurance bought by mid-December will take effect Jan. 1; coverage bought by mid-March is effective April 1.
Insurers must meet new requirements. For the first time, for example, they’ll be barred from rejecting people with preexisting conditions or charging them more.
The federal government will run the marketplace in Tennessee. www.healthcare.gov will direct people to the right marketplace.
The marketplaces will inform people if they are eligible for Medicaid, which as of today, Tennessee has decided not to expand, or if they should sign up for private plans. If someone doesn’t qualify but earns less than four times the federal poverty rate — $45,960 for an individual and $94,200 for a family of four — that person may qualify for subsidies to reduce the cost of the premiums. Small businesses, including nonprofits, will also be able to sign up their employees for policies on the marketplace and potentially take advantage of tax credits for purchasing that insurance.
Individual policies will be organized into four tiers — bronze, silver, gold and platinum — depending on their coverage and costs. People with employer-sponsored coverage generally won’t buy on the exchanges, nor will those on Medicare, Tenncare or veterans’ health-care plans.