Health Insurance Marketplaces: Now Open For Business

Oct 1, 2013, 10:50 AM

The shutdown is just one of two government stories making headlines today. The other, of course, is the opening of consumer health insurance marketplaces, also known as exchanges, in every state that will let consumers purchase coverage that takes effect as early as January 1, 2014. (Sign up after December 15, 2013 and coverage could begin after January 1.) The marketplaces are the cornerstones of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) signed into law three years ago.

The exchanges will not only sell insurance, but also serve as electronic sign-up centers for public health coverage. For example, under the ACA, Medicaid has been expanded to cover many low-income adults; previously in order to qualify for Medicaid, most adults had to have children under 18 years of age as dependents. Information on the exchange websites will let people comparison shop for health insurance by price and other options, as well as find out whether they qualify for subsidies and tax breaks to help cover the cost of the insurance. In a statement released to announce the opening of the marketplaces, the American Public Health Association (APHA) underscored the fact that all Americans using the marketplace will be guaranteed access to health care and a range of preventive services, including cancer screenings; vaccinations; care for managing chronic diseases; and mental health and substance use services.

“This is a defining moment in the transformation of our U.S. health system,” said Georges Benjamin, MD, APHA’s executive director. “Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, Americans will finally have greater access to affordable, quality care and preventive health services. The marketplace gives preventive care to Americans who never had it before, especially the 44,000 who die prematurely every year because they lack health insurance.”

According to the APHA, under marketplace and Medicaid expansion provisions 25 million uninsured Americans will gain health coverage within 10 years and even more will lower their health costs. Other provisions of the ACA include the Prevention and Public Health Fund already in place to improve the health of Americans through proven community-based preventive health services and strengthening of the public health work force and infrastructure.

Experts at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation have created and compiled resources to help individuals and health experts navigate the exchanges in their states.

>>Bonus Links: Read previous posts about the Affordable Care Act on NewPublicHealth:

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.