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Obamacare 101: What happens starting Oct. 1? (+video)

Oct. 1 is the first day the uninsured can shop on the new online marketplaces, or 'exchanges,' for health-care coverage. Under Obamacare, they have until March 31, 2014, to enroll in a health plan, or opt to pay a penalty later.

Obamacare 101: What you need to know on Oct. 1
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Next Tuesday, Oct. 1, is a red-letter day for President Obama’s signature policy, the Affordable Care Act. That’s the day the online marketplaces, or “exchanges,” open for business.

Most of the 48 million people in the United States who lack health insurance will be able to buy coverage through their state’s exchange or get free or low-cost coverage through Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), depending on household income. By law, Americans must have health insurance beginning Jan. 1, 2014, or pay a penalty.

Here are answers to some basic questions about the Oct. 1 rollout.

What exactly happens on Oct. 1?

Each state’s health insurance exchange goes “live” on the Web Oct. 1. That means people can start signing up for coverage by filling out a form that will ask questions about family size, age of family members, and household income.

What if the government shuts down on Oct. 1?

An impasse in Congress could lead to a lapse in federal government funding beginning Oct. 1, the first day of the 2014 fiscal year. But Mr. Obama said Sept. 27 that the exchanges will open on time, “no matter what.” The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is funded mostly through multiyear and mandatory spending, so it is largely shielded from the slings and arrows of the annual budget process.

“On Tuesday, about 40 million more Americans will be able to finally buy quality affordable health care, just like anybody else,” Obama said. “Those marketplaces will be open for business on Tuesday, no matter what, even if there's a government shutdown. That's a done deal.”

What can someone do in advance to get ready?

Healthcare.gov, a website run by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), is already up and running. Someone with access to the Web can visit that site and get information that will provide guidance about where to get coverage. Plan and cost information will be posted on Oct. 1.

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