Today is the first day of a six-month enrollment period for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act, which is commonly called Obamacare.
That means that people who don't have health insurance—or don't have a plan that meets the minimum requirements mandated by the law—can start signing up for coverage today.
Benefits of the coverage will go into effect as early as Jan. 1.
President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act will provide health care coverage to 30 million people.
It includes provisions such as preventing insurers to deny benefits based on pre-existing conditions. It allows people to stay on their parents' insurance until age 26. It requires coverage to include a free annual wellness visit, among an array of other benefits.
Last summer, the Supreme Court ruled that the core of the health care reform act was constitutional.
Some of the act's requirements have already been implemented, and others will continue to be rolled out in coming years.
Under the act, marketplaces are being created, which will allow individuals and small business owners to shop for insurance coverage via Internet-based exchanges.
The Affordable Care Act requires nearly everyone to have some sort of health care insurance, and it must meet the minimum requirements under the law.
But consumers are exempt from having to purchase health care coverage if the lowest health care option available costs more than 8 percent of a person's household income, according to NBC News.
The marketplaces opened today, and the government's website was slammed at times with traffic. Some state-run marketplaces were also experiencing glitches. State leaders had the option to run their own marketplaces or let the federal government do it. Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam opted not to create a state-run exchange.
People who already have insurance can drop their employers' offerings and purchase plans from the new marketplaces but only if their current coverage costs more than 9.5 percent of their salary.
Health reform confusion
There is widespread confusion and misunderstanding about the Affordable Care Act, according to several studies and videos like this.
Companies such as American Exchange and BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee are working to educate consumers about the new law.
BCBST officials released information about their health insurance premiums Monday, and they've launched a redesigned, consumer-focused website for today's opening of the marketplaces, where people can shop for health care coverage.
"We know that general education is pretty low," Henry Smith, senior vice president and chief marketing officer at BCBST, said.
The new BCBST.com is part of an integrated campaign designed to simplify the process of navigating health care options, officials said.
Consumers can visit the BCBST website for more information, or learn more details and sign up for benefits through HealthCare.gov.
American Exchange is another local company whose leaders will help consumers sign up for free.
Click here to read more from Nooga.com about the basics of the new law.
Costs and options
Tennesseans will have 59 different health plans to choose from.
And consumers will generally have at least two health insurance companies to choose from, but usually more, according to a recent report.
BCBST offers 54 different plans.
Each person’s cost varies depending on household size and income, but according to a recent study from the Kaiser Family Foundation, consumer insurance premiums will generally be lower than people think through the Affordable Care Act.
Premiums nationwide will also be about 16 percent lower than originally expected, according to a report from the Department of Health and Human Services.
Many people will qualify for upfront tax credits, which lower the cost the consumer will pay.
The Tennessean reported last week that Tennessee has some of the least expensive options, with only two other states having cheaper plans.
Smith said that BCBST costs are competitive.
"We are in a better-than-we-hoped-for position in terms of being competitive," he said.
For example, a 22-year-old person with a child living in the Chattanooga area who makes 200 percent of the poverty level—or about $31,020 annually—would pay $153 a month for coverage with a Silver Plan on Network E.
Rates vary by network, coverage selections and region.
Updated at 4:31 p.m. on 1/1/13. This article previously contained an embedded document that has since been removed.
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