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Understanding health insurance exchanges

If your health insurance isn't covered through an employer, you could get coverage through a marketplace.
As the provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) went into effect, one significant change arose in the way consumers can obtain health insurance. If a worker's employer does not offer a health care plan, he or she can buy it directly from a Health Insurance Exchange (HIX).

What is an insurance exchange?

These are transparent marketplaces that allow consumers in each state — as well as small businesses (those with 100 or fewer employees) — to compare and shop among affordable, quality health insurance options.

Who offers the exchanges?

HIXs are offered through state and federal government entities, and are subject to state regulation, standardization and oversight. The insurance plans offered within the exchanges will be from private insurers.

What are the advantages?

The Department of Health and Human Services lists these advantages for consumers:

Lower costs: Due to increased competition and pooled resources, small businesses, individuals, and families can purchase insurance at rates similar to what large businesses enjoy today.
One-stop shopping: The exchanges give consumers tools to effectively compare benefits, pricing, and quality.

Greater benefits and protection: Exchanges give families and small businesses access to plans offering high quality benefits. Tax credits and reduced cost sharing may also be possible, depending on a person's income.

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