Health Care Law's Exchanges Now Open

b_250_0_16777215_00_images_obgrabber_2013-10_8722dfb2eb.jpgAndrew Unangst/Getty Images (NEW YORK) -- Ready or not, the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, is here and the system of health insurance exchanges is open to help millions of uninsured Americans get medical coverage. Here's a brief primer: Americans can now shop in private health insurance marketplaces or exchanges to buy plans with many eligible to receive government subsidies to help them pay for insurance.

The open enrollment runs now through next March 31.  Since coverage doesn't kick in until Jan. 1, 2014, people have until Dec. 14 to find the right plan.  Otherwise, those who buy a plan in January or February will get covered the following month.

To sign up, go to the website www.healthcare.gov, or enroll by contacting call centers at 1-800-318-2596.  Information is available in more than 150 languages.  You can also enroll by mail.

Those who call will be directed to "navigators" who will dispense free advice and guide you through the different health care plans.  However, they can't tell you what to select or charge money.

All plans bought through the exchanges must offer the same coverage benefits, including free preventive care.  Costs vary with a monthly premium and some plans carry higher deductibles or ask for higher co-pays.  The White House says most uninsured people can find a policy for $100 or less per month.

Meanwhile, most of the plans will keep out-of-pocket costs to $6,350 for individuals and $12,700 per family.

One of the upsides of the ACA is that people with pre-existing conditions can't be denied insurance.  On the downside, most individuals must get insured by 2014 or face tax penalties of $95 per adult and $47.50 per child, up to $285 per family.  Or else, they'll be assessed one percent of income.  The fines will go up after 2014.

Those who don't make enough to file a tax return are exempt from buying health insurance.

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