WHERE TO START
Call 1-800-318-2596 or go to www.Healthcare.gov and create a user
name to get the process started. Find helpful information from the Kaiser Family Foundation at kff.org.
In the Chattanooga area, find personal assistance at the following locations:
• Southside Community Health Center, 100 E. 37th St.
• Dodson Avenue Community Health Center, 1200 Dodson Ave.
• Children’s Urgent Care, 910 Blackford St.
• Erlanger Health System, 975 E. Third St.
• Metropolitan Ministries, 1112 McCallie Ave.
• Chattanooga Hamilton County Medical Society, 1917 E. Third St.
• Homeless Health Care Center, 717 E. 11th St.
• Hamilton County Health Department general information, 209-8375
SEE FOR YOURSELF
Learn more about what local insurance companies are offering on the exchange:
• BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee: bcbst.com/knownow
• BlueCross BlueShield of Georgia: www.bcbsga.com
• Alliant: alliantplans.com
• Today — An information session about the enrollment process will be held at the Southside Community Health Center, 100 E. 37th St., from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. The public can learn what the new law means for them, documentation needed to determine eligibility, and the assistance available to help navigate the entire process including enrollment sites. It also will offer a tutorial on the categories of the exchange plans.
• Saturday — American Exchange, a broker that specializes in insurance options under the Affordable Care Act, will host its first of several community enrollment events at Liberty Tax, 1213 Dodds Ave., Chattanooga, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. This event is sponsored by the Glenwood Neighborhood Association.
For months, the Affordable Care Act has been something people debated, praised, scorned, and scratched their heads over.
Today, it's something people can shop for.
The Health Insurance Marketplace -- also called the "exchange" -- goes live today, providing an online portal that has been billed as a "one-stop shop" where people can compare plans and prices of private insurance plans.
While statewide averages were released last week, today shoppers can get detailed prices.
Four companies are offering plans on Tennessee's online marketplace, but only BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee and Cigna Healthcare have chosen to write plans for the greater Chattanooga area.
In Northwest Georgia, the companies offering plans on the exchange are Blue Cross Blue Shield of Georgia and Alliant.
On Monday, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee announced it has been approved to offer 54 plans across the state, and claimed its rates were the lowest, including zero-deductible plans.
"We have the lowest rates in the [Chattanooga] region, and that's true in just about every other region," said Henry Smith, chief marketing officer for BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee.
The rates are set on a tiered scale of "Bronze," "Silver," "Gold" and "Platinum," according to coverage level. BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee is the only company that will offer plans in every Tennessee county.
The company provided the example of a 22-year-old person with a child living in the Chattanooga area, making about $31,020 annually. This person would pay $153 a month for coverage with a Silver plan on BlueCross' Network E, once federal subsidies were applied.
The same example applied to Blue Cross Blue Shield of Georgia resulted in a premium of $475.71 on the Silver network, which could be brought down to "well below $200" based on the person's eligibility for subsidies, spokesman Bert Kelly said.
The federal subsidies could clinch whether a person or family finds the companies' new rates affordable.
For example, in Tennessee, a family of four making $60,000 could see a premium of $556 on BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee's Silver plan -- but be eligible for close to a $150 subsidy. A 60-year-old making $25,000 could have a price tag of $398 before subsidies, and end up paying $144.
In Georgia, rates have generally been more expensive than in Tennessee, though they are still at or below national averages. That same family of four could see $1,433 premiums and the 60-year-old $1,027 -- though both likely still would be eligible for substantial tax breaks to shrink those costs.
"We believe our rates are sustainable to offer Affordable Care Act quality plans over the long term," Kelly said. "We're wanting to make sure we bring value to the previously uninsured or underinsured."
Rates will vary by network, coverage selections and region. And subsidies will be decided by where a household lands on the federal poverty line.
Smith acknowledged that some of the new plans may be more expensive than former individual plans. But he said that they are still "very affordable" based on the new scope of coverage included in the plans.
The Affordable Care Act mandates that plans include "essential health benefits" like doctor's visits, screenings, prescription medicines, emergency services, maternity care and mental health care.
Ultimately, BlueCross officials say consumers need to shop the rates for themselves, as options will look different for each person.
That's the message pushed by Cigna officials, too. While the company did not provide examples of its premiums, it has a calculator that compares its plans on its website.
"I would characterize our rates as competitive," spokesman Joe Mondy said. "But while rates are important, so is value. People need to look beyond the sticker price in the window. They need to consider whether their medication is going to be covered, and whether they have sufficient choice of doctors to meet their family's needs."
Officials say people have a six-month window to do that.
If people want their coverage to start by Jan. 1 of next year, they need to enroll by Dec. 15. After that, they still have until March 31 to sign up for coverage that will start next April.
Mondy said that time frame is why the company expects customers to make slow, intentional choices.
"When you think about it, people will be paying about the same as they would for a monthly car payment. In many cases, it's like folks are being asked to pick a car, having never driven before."
Contact staff writer Kate Harrison at email@example.com or 423-757-6673.