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everything you wanted to know about the new insurance law--and how to get covered.

by: rebecca willa davis

October 01 2013

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For weeks you've been hearing about the new health insurance law. And for weeks you were probably like, "And that means...what, exactly?" At least, that was my response. I might be politically aware, but as we reached the October 1 launch date I found myself getting more and more confused. So I've spent the past week going through all the articles, guides, and infographics (so many infographics!) to figure out what matters to people like me: young, pretty healthy, pretty active, and pretty broke.

Here's the good news: With today marking the official opening of the health care marketplace (more on that in a sec), you can finally sign up to get insurance. Yes, whether you're a freelancer  who works from home or someone with enough pre-existing conditions that you've previously been rejected from coverage, the Affordable Care Act ensures that you have access to medical care so you can stay healthier for longer.

The bad news? You can't just snap your fingers and be covered; yes, you might have to take a break from your Orange is the New Black marathon to do a bit of research to figure out which plan works best for you. But I promise it's worth it; whether you get in an accident while biking to work, have a cough that just won't go away, or just want to refill your birth control prescription, you'll be really happy that you're insured (and also save loads of dinero).

So here's the simplified guide to health care. If you've got more questions, click here to find someone near you who can help you sort through it all.

What is the Affordable Care Act? It's a law, passed by Congress and signed by President Obama in March 2010 (and subsequently upheld by the US Supreme Court in June 2012), that expands public and private insurance coverage, requires insurance companies to cover all applicants, offer the same rates regardless of what pre-existing conditions people may have or what sex they may be. Ultimately, come 2014 all Americans will need to be insured, whether it's through your job or through an individual plan.

What That Means For You: If you don't already have health care, you can get coverage through the Marketplace.

Wait, What's the Marketplace? It's a program set up by the government where you can compare coverage options in your state according to price, benefits, quality, and more. If you're eligible for a lower cost option--and you will if you make below a certain amount or are under 30 and don't need fancy insurance--it will tell you. This doesn't mean that you're getting your insurance from the government, just that they're organizing all of the coverage plans from different insurers so it's easier (and, ultimately, more cost effective) to sort through.

So How Do I Sign Up? Starting today, you can apply for coverage right here--this site will send you along to your state's official Marketplace. 

Does That Mean I Can Go To The Doctor Tomorrow? No--while you can sign up starting today, it doesn't go into effect until January 1, 2014. So for the next three months be really, really good about wearing your helmet when you bike.

How Much Will It Cost? It totally depends on your state--and what tier works best for you. 

Tiers? Yes, there are four levels, and though they all pretty much offer up the same benefits, the way you pay is different. Some have lower premiums (that is, how much you pay month to month) but higher out-of-pocket costs (aka your bills when you see a doctor), while others have higher premiums but lower out-of-pocket costs.

I'm Confused. That's cool, every state has approved "guides" who know all the options and can walk you through it. Click here to find local help.

Do I Have To Sign Up Today? Nope--today is the very first day you can get insurance, but you have until March 31, 2014; after that, open enrollment closes. If you want your insurance to kick in on January 1, 2014, you'll have to sign up by December 15, 2013.

What If I Already Have Insurance? You can totally check and see how much insurance would cost for you in your state--who knows, it may be cheaper than what your employer already offers. If you're so excited about the new health care law but are happy with your insurance, help a friend without insurance sign up!

What If My Parents Have Insurance? Because of the Affordable Care Act, you can now stay on your parents' insurance plan through the age of 26. Yay! Over 26? Then you'll have to get your own coverage (though you can totally still crash on your parents' couch).

That Sucks. Yeah, but if you're under 30 (or make below a certain amount) there's a special option called the "catastrophic plan" (scary, I know). It basically costs way less per month, but only really helps you out if you need major medical attention. So dealing with that zit that won't go away? Not gonna help.

I Want To Sign Up But The Site Won't Work! Yup, turns out that a lot of people really want health insurance (shocker, right?)--because the Marketplace opened today, there are reports of some state Marketplace sites being overloaded. Try back later tonight--or wait until later in the week, when things may slow down a bit.

OK, I Get How You Sign Up, But Why Should I Care About Health Insurance? Because accidents happen. Because sometimes you get sick. Because you really should get your teeth cleaned twice a year. Because all adventurous women do...need pap smears. Because it's way easier than you think, and not as expensive as you're expecting it to be. Also, because eventually you'll have to, so you might as well do it now and avoid getting fined.

Wait, You Haven't Answered My Question Yet! Got more questions? That's totally cool--this site gives you a good overview (trust ones with a .gov at the end, as sadly there are people out there who want to make sure you stay confused and have posted fake sites), and there's someone in your state who is approved to answer them. Click here to get connected and get your questions answered.

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