What the Affordable Care Act Means for You

So What's Your Level?

That depends on the number of people in your family, your health, and theirs. If it's just you and you're relatively healthy, then a bronze plan may be fine. If you're married and have a couple of kids but you're all healthy, consider silver. If anyone in your family has a chronic health condition or a past medical problem that may recur, you might be better off with gold or platinum. (Wondering whether that nagging pain is a chronic condition? Here are 6 Health Problems To Never Ignore.)

How the Costs Shake Out

Take a family of four with a 45-year-old husband, a 42-year-old wife, two kids under 21, and an annual income of $70,000. They opt for the silver plan, which covers 70% of their health care bills and costs $1,015 a month before subsidies. Subtract the estimated $466 monthly tax credit the government will provide and their monthly cost drops to $549.

Experts called navigators will be available at no charge via phone and online through live chat to help you identify the best plan for you. The navigators are specially trained to walk you through the process. That's important, because what seems like the cheapest plan may actually cost you more, depending on your health care needs.

Another option may be available, depending on your income: Medic-aid. Some states are expanding Medicaid programs to more uninsured people with very low incomes--childless adults and others whose household incomes are up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level (which comes out to $15,856 for a single person; $21,404 for a couple).

If you're not eligible for Medicaid, you can use the marketplaces to get insurance. But there's a glitch in the system: Tax credits to help pay for insurance are available only to those whose household incomes are between 100 and 400 percent of the federal poverty level--so there's currently no financial help for people with incomes of less than $11,490 for a single person or $15,510 for a couple. This may one day be resolved through future legislation.

What's New: Free Preventive Care

Some ACA components have already taken effect--all of which are key for women, says Usha R. Ranji, associate director for Women's Health Policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation in Menlo Park, CA. Nearly one out of five women under age 65 is unable to find or afford health insurance. A major boon, particularly for women, will be free preventive care.

Co-pays for recommended services, including mammograms and Pap tests, as well as breast-feeding support and breast pumps, are free for women who have private insurance. Now many women can get an annual "well-woman" visit, which includes prenatal care and contraceptive counseling, as well as all recommended preventive services, at no cost. Also covered are contraception, HIV and other sexually transmitted disease screenings and counseling, and services such as screening and counseling for domestic violence.

"The well-woman visit is a fantastic opportunity for women to take care of themselves," says Therese Fitzgerald, PhD, who directs the policy and advocacy program at the Connors Center at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. "It's something we may not do because we're so busy taking care of everyone else." (A good topic to breach during those visits is menopause. Click here to read our Complete Guide To Everything You Need To Know About Menopause—but didn't know that you should ask!)

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