We've heard about it for months, but now that the starting time is here many still have questions about the Affordable Care Act, known as the ACA or Obamacare. So, what happens in Louisiana when the healthcare exchange opens on Tuesday, October 1?
Think of the exchange as an online marketplace. Once it opens, uninsured residents will be able to go online to shop, compare and buy one of hundreds of available health insurance plans. Many residents will qualify for a subsidy, or financial aid, from the government. Eligibility and amounts for subsidies are determined based on annual income and the number of dependants.
"So, they will be able to go to the exchange at this point, input their household income and number of dependants and based on the answers to those two questions, determine what level of subsidy is available from the federal government," explained CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield Louisiana Mike Reitz.
According to the Louisiana Healthcare Education Coalition, which was formed to help educate residents on the healthcare reform, affordable healthcare is defined under the ACA as a maximum of nine percent of your total annual income.
"If it ends up that the maximum you can pay is $100 a month, but the policy is $400 a month, then the federal government is going to pay $300, you pay $100. You would mail your check in and the federal government would mail their check in," said Doug Wilkinson of the Louisiana Healthcare Education Coalition.
Another big question is who will be affected? Louisiana is one of several states that chose not to expand Medicaid coverage under the ACA. So, only those individuals who are not insured and small businesses will be impacted by the open exchange. About 20 percent of Louisiana's population is without health insurance.
If you have Medicare, Medicaid, have a current policy or are insured through a large group employer, you will not have to make any changes.
While the open enrollment begins on October 1, experts say not to rush into buying a policy. Consumers will have six months to explore and navigate the new marketplace.
"[It's] important not to freak out. October 1, is the beginning, but it doesn't go into effect until January 1," said Health Agents for America President Ronnell Nolan. "Take your time and work through the process."
For a policy to go into effect by January 1, a policy must be purchased by December 15. Any policy purchased after that date will go into effect two months later. The exchange will remain open through March.
Nolan says many people will be signing up for insurance for the first time, with little knowledge of how health insurance actually works. She says her group, HAFA, can pair residents up with a health agent for free advice and guidance.
For more information on the ACA, to enroll or find a health agent to answer your questions, follow the links below.
Louisiana Healthcare Education Coalition, www.lhec.net
Affordable Care Act, www.healthcare.gov
Health Agents for America, www.HAFAmerica.org