Legal How-To: 'Signing Up' for Obamacare - Law and Daily Life
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Legal How-To: 'Signing Up' for Obamacare

How do you sign up for health insurance under Obamacare? State and federal health insurance exchanges are now open from coast to coast, as the first open enrollment period begins under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Many Americans may already have insurance through work or a private plan, or are covered by Medicare or Medicaid. But for those individuals and families who are uninsured, "signing up" for Obamacare may be the only way to avoid paying a penalty.

So how does an uninsured American sign up for insurance under Obamacare?

Understanding Obamacare

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Go to the Health Insurance Marketplace

Now open across the nation and online, the Obamacare Health Insurance Marketplaces provide federally regulated, fair spaces for insurance companies to compete with individual buyers for Obamacare-approved plans.

Also called health insurance exchanges, these spaces exist to allow health insurance shoppers to research all of their options before settling on a coverage plan.

Depending on where you live, the Marketplace will either be run by your home state or the federal government. You can sign up online, by phone, or in person.

If you want to apply online, go to HealthCare.gov and choose your home state. The website will tell you whether your can use the federal website (HealthCare.gov) or your state government's Marketplace website to shop for insurance. Beginning today, Americans can also find information on physical Marketplace locations if they choose to shop in-person for insurance.

The only information you'll need before shopping is:

  • Your Social Security numbers (or equivalent immigrant documents),
  • Policy numbers of current health insurance plans for you and your family, and
  • Information about healthcare plans offered by your employer (if any).

Once you've gathered your documents and directed yourself to the correct location, you can sign up for a plan.

Choose a Level of Coverage

Obamacare-approved private health insurance plans come in four levels of coverage, with more-expensive plans covering more than less-expensive ones.

In order of increasing price and comprehensive coverage, each plan will be categorized as:

  • Bronze,
  • Silver,
  • Gold, or
  • Platinum.

Many Americans will also be able to see if their annual incomes qualify them for federal assistance on any plan's annual premium cost. Those eligible for an insurance premium subsidy may have the majority of their deductible covered by the government.

By comparing the level of coverage, the cost, and recognizing your individual or family situation, signing up for Obamacare through the Marketplaces should be a painless process. But remember, the six-month "open enrollment" window for signing up begins October 1, 2013, and closes March 31, 2014.

Are you facing a legal issue you'd like to handle on your own? Suggest a topic for our Legal How-To series by sending us a tweet @FindLawConsumer with the hashtag #HowTo.

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