Health reform 101

Posted Aug. 23, 2013, at 1:43 p.m.

Here are the answers to some frequently asked questions about the Affordable Care Act, from Kaiser Permanente:

What is health reform? Health reform refers to the federal law passed in 2010 called the Affordable Care Act, plus any state laws passed to implement it. The point of the law is to expand health coverage to more people and improve medical care.

What do I need to do now? The best thing to do now is learn how health reform may affect your coverage and get ready for Oct. 1 when the health insurance marketplaces open.

What are the health insurance marketplaces? Sometimes called “exchanges,” the marketplaces are where you can go to shop for health plans. They are for people who buy insurance on their own or currently don’t have coverage. You will be able to compare plans, shop for coverage and find out whether you’re eligible for financial assistance. The exchanges open Oct. 1, and the policies take effect Jan. 1. Visit www.healthcare.gov for information on shopping for insurance plans offered through state exchanges. Insurers like Anthem also have websites explaining the impact of the health care reform law.

Do I have to buy from the marketplaces? Not necessarily. You can still get coverage through your employer, directly from an insurance company or from Medicare or Medicaid if you’re eligible. You will need to purchase a plan from the marketplace if you want financial help, however.

Who has to buy health insurance? Most U.S. citizens and legal immigrants must have health coverage starting Jan. 1. Those with certain religious beliefs, members of Native American tribes, undocumented immigrants, people in prison and people with income below a certain level will not be required to buy insurance.

What if I can’t afford health care coverage? The government will provide subsidies to help people with certain incomes pay. If you’re single, the qualifying income bracket could be $15,282 to $45,960. For couples, $20,628-$62,040. For a family of four, $31,322-$94,200.

What happens if I don’t buy coverage? If you go without coverage for three months or longer, starting Jan. 1., you’ll face a penalty. If you get coverage within that three-month grace period, you will not be charged a tax penalty.

Can anyone get coverage? Yes. Under the ACA, insurers can no longer deny people because of their medical conditions.

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