PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Open enrollment begins Tuesday, Oct. 1, for health insurance offered through the nation’s new health care law, or Obamacare.
While Rhode Island's new state Obamacare insurance marketplace – HealthSource RI – says it will be targeting television ads and social media towards young people once its $5-million advertising campaign begins, the law will affect almost everyone in the Ocean State in one way or another.
Here are answers to some frequently asked questions regarding the new health care law, which President Obama signed back in March 2010.
- Nesi's Notes: In-depth coverage of Obamacare in RI
Q: How will most people's health insurance change once Obamacare is up and running?
A: For most people, there shouldn't be much change at all.
If you or your family currently gets your health insurance through your employer, that's not supposed to change. The same goes if you're a senior who uses the federal Medicare program or if you use a local Medicaid program such as RIte Care.
However, there will be major changes for two groups of Rhode Islanders: uninsured people and those who buy their health plans on an individual basis, not through work. They will be asked to buy health insurance through the new statewide HealthSource RI marketplace being set up under Obamacare.
Also, Rhode Island small businesses with 50 or fewer employees will be able to buy health insurance through the HealthSource RI marketplace starting Oct. 1. Small businesses can tell the marketplace how much they will contribute toward their employees' insurance premiums, and then the employees can use the HealthSource RI website to choose between various different health plans.
Q: Where can I find information on health insurance changes in Rhode Island?
A: There is a new website, HealthSourceRI.com, for Rhode Island's Obamacare insurance marketplace.
Starting Tuesday, people who don’t have insurance or who buy it as an individual will be able to use the website to compare 12 different health plans, choose one, and find out if they're eligible for new federal subsidies to reduce the cost of their premiums. Small businesses with 50 or fewer employees can also use HealthSource RI to buy coverage for their workers.
You can also call the HealthSource RI contact center to ask questions: 1-855-840-HSRI (4774).
Q: Everyone is saying Obamacare "starts" on Oct. 1. Will people have to do anything that day?
A: No. No one needs to do anything on Oct. 1.
The reason Oct. 1 is getting a lot of publicity is because that's the day HealthSource RI and the other Obamacare insurance marketplaces open up. It's the first day people can enroll for insurance coverage and browse through the different options available.
It's important to note that even if you do sign up for an insurance plan through HealthSource RI on Tuesday, your coverage won't actually take effect until Jan. 1, 2014. That's true for all the Obamacare marketplaces across the country. People can sign up for 2014 health coverage anytime between Oct. 1 and March 31.
Q: Is everyone required to buy health insurance? How do you know if your plan qualifies?
A: Yes, almost everyone in America will be required to carry health insurance starting in 2014 under President Obama’s health care law. Otherwise they will have to pay a tax penalty, which starts at $95 or 1% of their income (whichever is higher) and rises in future years.
If you currently get health insurance through work or government programs such as Medicare or RIte Care, you should be all set with the requirement (often called "the individual mandate").
In addition, there is an exemption to the requirement to buy health insurance for those individuals and families who do not have any affordable health plan available for them to buy.
Q. What are some important dates to remember?
A: Some important dates to remember related to the health law include:
- Oct. 1, 2013: HealthSource RI open enrollment starts for 2014
- Jan. 1, 2014: HealthSource RI insurance coverage begins
- Mar. 31, 2014: HealthSource RI open enrollment ends for 2014
Most people will only be able to buy a health insurance plan through HealthSource RI during the annual open-enrollment period, which lasts from Oct. 1 to March 31.
However, there are some exceptions to that window. For example, people are allowed to sign up for one of the Obamacare health plans at any time of year if they experience a life-changing event. Those events could include getting divorced, losing their jobs or losing their health insurance.
Q. I have a different question. Where can I go to learn more?
A: Here are some other websites that collect information about the health-care law:
- Kaiser Family Foundation: Answers to frequently asked questions about health reform
- HealthCare.gov: Official information about how the Affordable Care Act works
- HealthSource RI: Frequently asked questions from Rhode Islanders in particular
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