Despite the continuing federal government shutdown in Washington, the Affordable Care Act’s open healthcare exchanges, or “marketplaces,” recently entered their second week, while still trying to work out bugs in their online operation. Since the federal shutdown stems from a Congressional Republican effort to defund critical parts of the ACA in the new federal budget, a provision Senate Democrats and President Obama would never agree to, it has been dubbed the “Seinfeld” shutdown – the shutdown about nothing. Most funding for the ACA had already been appropriated as “mandatory”, meaning that the program would continue no matter whether the government was open or not. While much debate over the ACA concerns legitimate legal issues, such as whether the federal government has the power to mandate individual action, misinformation about how the ACA will affect Americans has tainted and derailed the greater conversation: providing affordable insurance options to the 48 million Americans, or more than 15 percent of the population, who still lack healthcare. The administration has also done a poor job of communicating the particulars of the ACA, considering that most Americans still dislike the law, but like what’s in it. While television and print news outlets have tried to explain the ins and outs of what the Act will mean for individuals, infographics and web tools might prove to be more useful to a broad audience. The biggest changes to current policy will be in the expansion of Medicaid for low-income adults and the so-called healthcare mandate that will require all those currently without insure to buy some if they can afford it, and all businesses with more than 50 employees to provide insurance to full-time workers. If you already have health insurance from your job and want to keep it, you probably won’t see any change in your coverage. However, not all states have opted into the Medicaid expansion, meaning the eligibility for low-income adults will vary based on where they live. Check to see whether your state has opted into the new eligibility requirements using the map below.
This expansion will also affect the states in different ways, as states with higher poverty rates will be able to enroll more of its citizens. See how many people in your state will be affected by the expansion.
For those with incomes above the Medicaid limit who are also in the market for an affordable new insurance plan, the government opened up its state health insurance marketplaces on October 1, the same day the government shut down. These are supposed to ease the insurance-buying process by showing people the lowest-cost insurance options in their area. The deadline for purchasing insurance before facing a fine is March 31, 2014. The Kaiser Family Foundation has created a handy calculator that can estimate premiums and subsidies for those signing up under the new healthcare law. However, the state you live in may once again determine which marketplace you can access. Some states have opted into creating state-administered exchanges, meaning there will be different local requirements for different plans. To see whether your state has opted in, or instead is ceding control to the federal government to run their exchange, check out the map below. This information may also change with time, as states have up until November 16 to submit plans for how they will operate exchanges for their citizens.
Allison McCartney is an editor at the PBS NewsHour focused on education and informational graphics, and a freelance designer in the Visual.ly marketplace. She has a bachelor’s degree from Washington University in St. Louis, where she studied Middle Eastern history and art. You can follow her on Twitter @anmccartney.