Tuesday marks a big milestone for the Affordable Care Act; it’s the day a major centerpiece of the law comes to life. Washington, along with 15 other states, has spent years planning and developing an online market where consumers can shop for health insurance. Tuesday, the health exchanges make their live debut.
Officials say Washington’s website is ready for business. And they’re prepared to help people with the enrollment process. Not even a government shutdown will stop those efforts, said state Sen. Karen Kaiser. “The Affordable Care Act is the law, and it is being implemented. It has been implemented by many steps,” she said. “None of that is at risk and none of that will go backwards. That is the law and it is going forward.”
There will be more than 40 health plans offered through Washington’s health exchange. All plans offer benefits such as doctor visits and prescriptions, as well as free preventive check-ups and screenings. To get started, the site has a short checklist of things you’ll need before you can begin browsing. The agency’s Nelly Kinsella says be prepared with your social security number, or other identification, date of birth, as well as your household’s estimated yearly income.
Kinsella demonstrated how to navigate the exchange. After she entered some more personal information, the site listed some insurance options. Each plan was broken down by monthly premiums, deductibles, co-pays, and other information you’d want to consider when shopping.
Kinsella then showed how to compare plans. With a click of the button, the three plans she selected appeared on the screen side-by-side. “And then you can see here’s the Bridge Span plan, the two CHPW plans,” she said. Scroll down, and there’s more information. “They’re being compared on over two dozen factors -- about health-care costs, about the health-care provider , whether they’re in or out of network, some quality information.”
Shopping for health plans on the exchange is not going to be your typical online shopping experience. It’s going to be more involved, especially if you’re picking a plan for more than one family member.
Coverage begins January 1, 2014. Open enrollment runs through the end of March.
Consumers who don’t have computer access can also get information from a network of trained insurance brokers and community organizers.
People can also contact the Health Exchange’s call center for questions.