We’ve heard a lot in the news about the Affordable Care Act and health insurance exchange. Le Bonheur’s Director of Public Policy Maureen O’Connor provides some basic information about the insurance marketplace.

What is a health insurance exchange?

As a result of the Affordable Care Act, most Americans are required to have health insurance by Jan. 1, 2014. The health insurance exchange is an online marketplace where consumers can compare and purchase affordable government-regulated and standardized health care plans. Consumers can do side-by-side comparisons of qualified health plans and also use a calculator to see if they qualify for tax subsidies.

Who does it apply to? Those insured already or just those uninsured?

It is available to those that are currently uninsured, or those who are looking to purchase a different plan and possibly take advantage of tax subsidies based on family income. Most consumers who currently have health insurance through an employer plan will not seek new insurance through the exchange.

Are there differences between states?

Yes. Each state will have an exchange. Some states have developed their own exchange. Some are partnering with the federal government to create an exchange. And, some states are using an exchange developed by the federal government. Each state exchange will offer similar qualified health care plans that have met federal government standards. Insurance carriers and costs will differ from state to state.

Why would someone have to pay a fee if they don't have coverage?

Per the Affordable Care Act, most Americans are required to have health insurance by Jan. 1, 2014. Most of those that remain uninsured after that date will have to pay a penalty.

Where can you go to learn more?

To compare insurance plans and costs in your area, go to www.healthcare.gov or call 1-800-318-2596.