The Health Insurance Marketplace is Open - Now What?

If you’re interested in shopping online for health insurance, here are the steps to take.

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Lisa Greene-Lewis

By now, you may have heard that the online health insurance marketplace opened, and you might be wondering what that means for you and your health insurance coverage.

First, if you're already insured by your employer, Medicare, Medicaid or self-insured, you don't need to take any action. You are already covered and meet all requirements of the health care law. Additionally, if you fall under one of the nine groups of people, including low-income Americans, who are exempt from the individual mandate, you don't have to worry about paying for coverage.

But if do not fit one of those categories and need health insurance, you can shop for a plan in the health insurance marketplace. These marketplaces were designed to be a place where uninsured Americans can shop for affordable health care options and purchase a plan that fits their health care needs.

If you're interested in switching your health insurance or want to sign up for a plan through the marketplace, here are the steps you need to take.

1. Gather personal information for family members. Although the internal revenue service will report your income information to the marketplace based on your 2012 tax return, it's best that you gather documents like W-2s, tax returns, and current paystubs so you have an idea of your total household income. Your income is one of the factors that determines eligibility for a tax credit in the health insurance marketplace.

2. Find out if your employer is offering health insurance. Workplaces with fewer than 50 full-time employees are not required to offer health insurance. If your employer is not offering health insurance, you can shop and purchase a plan using the online health insurance marketplace. You will need to sign up for insurance by Jan. 1, 2014 to avoid a tax penalty of $95 per adult and $47.50 per child in 2014. The penalty will be capped at $285 for a family or 1 percent of household income.

3. Check your state's online health insurance marketplace. Go online and visit your state’s online health insurance exchange so you can compare plan options and purchase one that fits your health care needs and budget.

4. Find out if you're eligible for a tax credit. Depending on your household income and family size, you may be eligible for a tax credit, also known as a subsidy, which will lower the cost of co-pays and deductibles. You can find out if you qualify in the marketplace before you purchase health insurance.

5. Compare and choose the best health plan for you. There will be different health care plans available that are categorized by bronze, silver, gold and platinum. The plans differ in price by how much you and the insurer pay for health care costs. For example, the insurer will pay 60 percent in a bronze plan, while the individual pays 40 percent. For platinum plans, the split is 90-10. The health insurance marketplace will help you navigate through options and decide which plan fits your budget.

6. Remember important health insurance marketplace dates:

Oct. 1, 2013 – Marketplace open enrollment begins.

Jan. 1, 2014 – Health coverage begins for those who purchased insurance from October to Jan. 1.

March 31, 2014 – Open enrollment ends. Once open enrollment ends, you will not be able to get insurance through the marketplace until the next annual enrollment period unless you experience a life event that would alter coverage such marriage, divorce or a having a baby.

Lisa Greene-Lewis is a certified public accountant and TurboTax tax expert. She has more than 15 years of experience in tax preparation, including positions as a public auditor, controller and operations manager. For more tax-related tips, go to blog.turbotax.intuit.com.