Opinion: Leticia Van de Putte on Health Care Exchanges

The Affordable Care Act, the federal health insurance reform law known as “Obamacare” is in effect, along with a major provision — health insurance exchanges, also known as health insurance marketplace.

If you are currently uninsured, it’s very important that you know about these exchanges and how they can benefit you and your family.

I bet you are asking yourself, what is a health insurance exchange? It’s an online store where consumers can easily compare and buy health insurance plans — think of it as the Orbitz or Expedia of insurance. Beginning Nov. 15, 2014,  you may begin using the exchanges to enroll in coverage that will begin Jan. 1, 2015. This "open enrollment" window will last until Feb. 15, 2015.

The Affordable Care Act authorized states to set up and operate their own exchanges. Unfortunately, Governor Perry stubbornly refused to create one — and therefore Texas’ exchange will be run by the federal government.

You might hear a lot of misinformation about what these exchanges will do, spread by opponents of the Affordable Care Act. All the exchange will do is simply explain and compare policy options for consumers, letting them figure out which policy works best for their needs. If you haven’t been able to afford health coverage in the past, now you’ll be able to find a plan you can afford, and you may qualify for assistance in paying for it.

Plans will be presented in four categories — bronze, silver, gold, and platinum — based on price, benefits, deductions and other features. Straightforward explanations presented by the exchanges before you enroll will give a clear picture of what premiums you’d pay and what benefits and protections you’d get.

How can you apply for enrollment? You may do it online, by mail, or in-person with the help of an insurance broker/agent, a certified application counselor, or what the federal government calls a “navigator” — an impartial advisor to guide you through the process.

On the Internet, you may go to www.HealthCare.gov to apply for coverage, compare plans, and enroll. For information specific to San Antonio and Bexar County, go to EnrollSA.com. To find assistance in other areas, go directly to LocalHelp.HealthCare.gov. And any time day or night you may call 1-800-318-2596 for assistance. Every bit of information and access is also available in Spanish at this link.

There are other good resources for understanding the Affordable Care Act and the health care exchanges. Here is a continually updated list of local events where you can get help in person: http://bexarhealthmarketplace.org/enrollment-events 

Another good online resource is BeCoveredTexas.org, a website created by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas.

Unlike our misguided state leadership, I am excited about the arrival of the Affordable Care Act. As I noted last week, there are too many Texans — nearly one in four — lacking health insurance, and a almost 60 percent of them are Latino. The ACA will not achieve coverage for all, but it’s a huge step in the right direction and will bring millions under the umbrella of affordable health insurance and preventive health care. Every Texas family deserves to have a family doctor — and that’s the main focus of “Obamacare.”

State Senator Leticia Van de Putte, a practicing pharmacist, represents large portions of San Antonio and Bexar County.

Editors note: this article has been updated