NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- As Uncle Sam continues to work the kinks out of the Affordable Care Act health insurance exchanges, more consumers are logging on and checking into their options.
With only a few weeks to go before the March 31 deadline for individuals, 3.8 million consumers have signed up for the exchanges through Feb. 25.
The Affordable Care Act is built on the premise that the more people who sign up (especially healthier, younger Americans), the better the system works.
Time is growing short for people to sign up for insurance through the exchanges, and many may have questions that make them hesitate.
"Individuals are able to sign up for health insurance in the federal and state exchanges -- also known as the Health Insurance Marketplace -- through March 31, so this is a good time for many people to look at their options and make decisions," says Steve Sell, president of the managed health care provider <B's Western Region Health Plan.
To help consumers (especially those previously without health insurance) understand what's at stake and what they need to do to sign on to the best plan possible, Health Net is offering a tutorial of sorts to walk buyers through the process. Here's how Health Net defines key terms new insurance customers may not know about:
Premium: The amount of money that must be paid to your insurance carrier. You and/or your employer usually pay the premium monthly, quarterly or annually.
Deductible: The amount you owe for health care services before your insurance carrier begins to pay. For example, if your deductible is $1,000, your plan won't pay for anything until you've met your $1,000 deductible for covered health care services that are subject to the deductible.
Coinsurance: Your share of the costs of a covered health care service, calculated as a percentage of the allowed amount for the service. You pay coinsurance, plus any deductibles you may owe. For example, if the insurance carrier's allowed amount for an office visit is $100 and you've met your deductible, your coinsurance payment of 20% would be $20. The insurance carrier pays the rest of the allowed amount.
Copayments (or copays): A fixed amount (for example, $15) that you pay for a covered health care service, usually as you get the service.
HealthNet also offers definitions for the different levels of insurance plans consumers will find on health care exchanges (bronze, silver, gold and platinum):
Platinum/Gold: With Platinum and gold plans, consumers pay more of out-of-pocket costs when they get care and usually have higher premiums. If you expect numerous doctor visits and other services, a platinum or gold plan may be your better option.
Silver/Bronze: Consumers who opt for a silver or a bronze plans can count on paying a lower premium, but will pay a higher share of the costs when getting health care services. HealthNet says if you don't expect to need frequent doctor visits or other ongoing health care services, a silver or bronze plan may work for you. If you experience an unexpected health problem or are involved in a serious accident, a silver or bronze plan may require you to cover more of your costs.
You'll qualify for health care insurance subsidies on either your state or federal government exchange. Check this chart -- if you fall into any one of these income ranges, you'll qualify for a health care insurance subsidy:
$11,490 to $45,960 for individuals.
$15,510 to $62,040 for a family of two.
$19,530 to $78,120 for a family of three.
$23,550 to $94,200 for a family of four.
$27,570 to $110,280 for a family of five.
$31,590 to $126,360 for a family of six.
$35,610 to $142,440 for a family of seven.
$39,630 to $158,520 for a family of eight.
The above isn't all you need to know about health care plan options on the government exchanges, but it's a good start. For a more thorough look, check out HealthCare.gov, the government's gateway to the national health care plan exchange.