If you're among the hundreds of thousands of people whose health insurance is disappearing at the end of the year, please, please do not simply default to the new plan your insurance company is handing you. It could cost you hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
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These plans will come straight from the insurance company without passing through your state's Health Insurance Marketplace. That means that you will not be eligible for any financial help with premiums or out-of-pocket costs—even if your income would otherwise qualify you—because you can ony get this help if you procure a plan through the marketplace.
What's more, the plan you're offered may be more expensive than similar plans from other ocmpanies, which you'll never know unless you shop and compare.
If you live in one of the states that's operating its own marketplace, you can shop right now because most of them are working well. (Oregon is an exception; you can't shop online there yet). You can tell if you're in such a state because when you go to the marketplace site it won't say "HealthCare.gov" at the top and, well, it will work. Many of the state portals allow you to estimate your subsidy and window-shop for plans before you to through the somewhat lengthy application process itself.
If you are stuck in a state run through the troubled and fitful HealthCare.gov portal, you should try to set up an account and make sure you have a functioning user name and password. Those basic functions, mostly impossible for the first couple of weeks the site was open, are now reportedly working the way they're supposed to.
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Feel free to continue with your shopping, but don't be surprised if you hit a wall at some point. Unfortunately the site won't let you see any plans until you've completed your application, and many users are still reporting they can't make it to the end of that process. Late November is the government's self-imposed deadline for having the site working well for "the vast majority of visitors." You have until Dec. 15 to enroll in coverage if you need it to start by Jan. 1.
Got a question for our health insurance expert? Ask it here. It helps if you include the state you live in.
— Nancy Metcalf
Health reform countdown: We are doing an article a day on the new health care law until Jan. 1, 2014, when it takes full effect. (Read the previous posts in the series.) To get health insurance advice tailored to your situation, use our Health Law Helper, below.
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