Health Insurance In 2014: Where Will You Buy A Health Plan?

Starting in 2014, the federal government will require you to buy health insurance. That's when the individual mandate goes into effect under the Affordable Care Act.

Upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in June, the mandate requires everyone (with a bunch of exceptions) to have health insurance, whether it's through an employer-sponsored plan, government-funded health insurance program, such as Medicare or Medicaid, or a private individual policy.

Worried about where you'll find a health plan? Here's where to look in 2014:

State exchanges

The Affordable Care Act requires states to set up competitive health insurance marketplaces called exchanges. The federal government will set up the exchanges in states that don't set up their own. (See How health insurance exchanges will work.)

The exchanges will offer websites where you can compare health insurance plans and prices and buy coverage online. You'll also be able to see whether you qualify for government-funded insurance programs or government subsidies to help you afford health insurance premiums.

"It's a pretty impressive platform to set up," says Dan Maynard, president of Connecture Inc., a Milwaukee area-based software company that's designing the online-sales systems for exchanges in Maryland and Minnesota.

The websites will include self-service tools to guide you through the process of enrolling in government programs, if you're eligible, or choosing a private health plan based on your needs.

In most cases exchanges will include call centers, where you can phone for help in choosing and enrolling in a plan, Maynard says. All exchanges will work with so-called "navigators." These are groups and professionals in the community who can help you enroll in a health insurance plan through a state exchange. Insurance brokers, consumer advocates and non-profit groups could serve as navigators, and some state exchanges might have community outreach centers.