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Resources popping up to help you buy health coverage through marketplaces Posted: November 6th, 2013

By Beth Orenstein

Beth Orenstein is a freelance writer from Northampton, Pa. A graduate of Tufts University, she covers health and insurance topics.

Are you one of the 12 million Americans expected to buy health insurance through the newly created marketplaces? Do you need help understanding how they work?

A variety of organizations have launched interactive tools to help you navigate the new system and calculate your costs.

The marketplaces, also known as exchanges, opened Oct. 1 in every state. Through the marketplaces you can apply for government subsidies to make coverage more affordable and buy health plans from private insurers.

The Healthcare Trends Institute of Fargo, N.D., has developed two online tools: ReformWatch, an interactive map, and an infographic titled "The State of the Exchanges."

The interactive map tracks the health insurance marketplaces as they launch on a state-by-state basis. You can select your state and then view detailed information regarding its exchange. You can see what type of exchange your state has (federal, state or a partnership), where you can register for enrollment, and links to other information you may find helpful.

You also can request updates on your state's marketplace by providing your email address.

Help calculating costs

The institute's infographic provides details on how the exchanges work, who is using them, and what they mean for consumers and health care in the future.

"With so much information swirling about, we felt it was important to create simple tools to help employers and consumers better understand the exchanges so they can effectively participate in them," Tiffany Wirth, executive director of the Healthcare Trends Institute, said in a press release.

The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation based in Menlo Park, Calif., also has launched an online calculator to help people buying insurance in the marketplaces to determine what their health insurance premiums will cost and whether they are eligible for a government tax credit subsidy.

To use this calculator, you enter the state in which you live, your annual income, and whether you are eligible for employer coverage. You also must enter the number of people in your family, the number of adults over 21 enrolling in exchange coverage, and the number of children (20 and younger) enrolling in exchange coverage. The calculator does the rest.

For those with arthritis

Have arthritis? The Arthritis Foundation launched an online Health Insurance Marketplace Toolkit to help consumers, especially those with arthritis, understand the marketplaces and make informed decisions about their health care coverage and benefit needs.

The foundation's toolkit includes a user's guide with introductory materials and tools to help consumers learn about their various options. It also includes tips and tools to help you select the right plan for your family's needs. The toolkit is state specific as well.

Coverage bought through the exchanges can start as early as Jan. 1.