A look at Missouri's online health exchange

Written by Muleskinner Staff

The Associated Press

People can begin enrolling Tuesday for health coverage through a new online insurance marketplace created under the 2010 federal Affordable Care Act signed by President Barack Obama. Here are some answers to a few common questions about Missouri’s health insurance exchange:
What is a “health insurance exchange?”
It’s a website through which people can buy health insurance policies. It’s intended primarily for people who don’t already have employer-sponsored health care plans.
Where do I find this website?
Missouri residents can go to www.healthcare.gov beginning on Tuesday. Missouri’s site is being run by the federal government, because state officials chose not to set up a state-run insurance exchange.
How much will this cost?
Exact costs aren’t known yet and will vary depending on people’s individual circumstances and choices. The website will offer several different insurance policies. People willing to pay a higher monthly premium may have lower out-of-pocket expenses for doctor’s office co-payments or for deductibles that must be paid before insurance coverage kicks in. Government subsidies will be available to reduce the cost for some people.
Who will be eligible for subsidies?
Federal tax credits that can function like upfront subsidies will be available to people with incomes ranging from the poverty level to as much as four times the poverty level. That means a family of four earning almost $100,000 could qualify for a partial discount. But a Missouri family earning between about $4,500 and $24,000 annually may not be eligible for subsidies. That’s because the federal law assumed lower-income families would be covered through Medicaid, but Missouri lawmakers chose not to expand Medicaid eligibility.
When must I make a decision?
Though enrollment begins Tuesday, people have until Dec. 15 to sign up if they want their insurance coverage to begin on Jan. 1. Enrollment will remain open through the end of March.
What if I don’t want health insurance?
Skipping insurance could come at a cost. Starting in 2014, many people who don’t have insurance will be subject to a federal tax penalty, though there are some exceptions. For an individual, the penalty begins at a minimum of $95 in 2014 and rises to a minimum of $695 by 2016.