5 things to know about Montana's health exchange - KULR-8 Television, Billings, MT

5 things to know about Montana's health exchange

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MONTANA -

In Montana and across the country, new online insurance marketplaces opened for business Tuesday as part of the new federal health overhaul. Here are five things to know about the new health exchange in Montana:

WHAT IS IT?

The insurance marketplaces are at the heart of President Barack Obama's health care overhaul requiring most Americans to have insurance coverage starting next year. The exchanges opened Tuesday for consumers to shop for plans, with coverage to begin in January.

WHO IS OFFERING INSURANCE?

In Montana, three companies are offering coverage through the exchange: Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Montana, PacificSource and the Montana Health Co-Op.

WHAT DOES IT COST?

Different plans have different premiums, taking into account the level of coverage, the age of the consumer and the size of the family, among other factors. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says the cheapest "bronze" plans in Montana have a weighted average of $251 per month, while the more expensive "silver" plans average $316 per month. Subsidies are offered to people who earn less than 400 percent of the federal poverty level.

WHERE TO GO:

Montana is one of 36 states in which the federal government is running the health exchanges through https://www.healthcare.gov . Consumers can also sign up through a call center, in person or by mail. Planned Parenthood of Montana, the Montana Primary Care Association and the Montana Health Network have been awarded federal grants for navigators to tell people their options to buy health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

WHAT IF I DECIDE NOT TO BUY INSURANCE?

People who decide not to by coverage will face a tax penalty of at least $95 the first year, which is to rise to at least $695 by 2016. Consumers have until Dec. 15 to choose coverage that begins in January, and until March to avoid tax penalties in 2014.

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