By Lisa Zamosky
What’s in a name? A clearer idea of what that name represents, perhaps. At least that seems to be what the federal government is hoping for.
One of the most major changes the Affordable Care Act (the health reform law) puts in place is a new way of shopping for health plans for people who buy coverage on their own or work for a small business starting in 2014.
Since the law passed in March, 2010, this new shopping mechanism has been referred to as a health insurance “exchange”. On the exchanges, you will be able to see the health plans available to you, compare their benefits side-by-side, find out if you qualify for Medicaid or a tax subsidy to help cover the cost of your insurance, and finally buy the plan.
But what exactly is an exchange anyway? No one really seems to know. So the government recently announced a new name for this central feature of the health reform law — health insurance “exchanges” will from on here on out be referred to as the Health Insurance Marketplace.
Racing to Get Consumers Up to Speed
Why the switch? Health Insurance Markets must be up and running in time for this year’s open enrollment season, which gets underway in October. The race is on right now to set up a Marketplace in each state across the country in order to hit the October 1 deadline. Some markets will be run at the state level, while others will be operated by the federal government, and it’s not clear at this time that all states will be ready later this year.
Regardless, it’s in these new marketplaces, which will live online, where people who buy their own insurance or work for a small business will be able to shop for a health plan. The idea is to create an insurance super mall with excellent customer service, making the historically confusing process of buying health insurance easier for consumers with greater choice of health plans than most people have previously enjoyed.
But the idea only works if people understand it and can put it to good use. Yet, as I discussed in this earlier blog, most people newly eligible for insurance coverage under the law in 2014 don’t know anything at all about the new markets, let alone have plans to use them.
Up to now so much effort has been spent fighting the political battles that travel with health reform and little has been done to reach out to Americans to help them better understand the law and how to take advantage of the benefits it offers.
If Americans aren’t educated about health reform, how it works and how to go about buying health insurance, there’s little chance of its success. So, the marketing effort is now in full force.
Part of that effort also includes a revamped health reform website at HealthCare.gov, to make it easier for people to learn about health reform.
How well do you understand the benefits that are currently and will be available to you under the health reform law?
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