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    What’s Ahead for the Affordable Care Act in 2013?

    March 22, 2013 -- This month marks the third anniversary of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act becoming law.

    Consumers have gained access to many new benefits under the law since it was passed in 2010. They include free preventive services, new rights to appeal insurers’ decisions, drug discounts for seniors on Medicare, and tax credits for small businesses.

    The biggest changes will take place less than a year from now. On Jan. 1, 2014, all Americans will be guaranteed access to health insurance coverage.

    Here are some of the biggest developments to watch in 2013.

    Health Insurance Marketplaces

    One of the biggest changes will come in the form of new health insurancemarketplaces, also called exchanges. Starting in October, individuals without access to health insurance through a job will shop for, compare, and enroll in health plans through these new online insurance super malls. Small businesses can use them, too. People will also find out if they qualify for tax breaks to help them pay for their insurance coverage.

    While both federal and state governments are working furiously to get the markets up and running in time for October’s open enrollment, the public remains largely in the dark about what’s to come. According to a new poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation, nearly 6 in 10 U.S. residents say they don’t have enough information to understand how they’ll be affected by the law.

    That’s why starting in late summer and early fall, you can expect to be bombarded with messages about the health insurance marketplaces from a wide range of sources, including the media, federal and state governments, state departments of insurance, the state-based health insurance marketplaces, tax preparers, health care providers, private groups, and social service agencies.

    There will be three primary messages you’re likely to hear, says Lynn Quincy, senior health policy analyst for Consumers Union, the policy arm of Consumer Reports:

    1. The marketplaces are opening their doors for open enrollment in October for insurance benefits that will take effect Jan. 1, 2014.
    2. This is a different ball game. “The rules are changing. Now you cannot be turned down [by insurers],” Quincy says. Previously, insurance companies could deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions.
    3. “There will be help to lower your insurance costs if you qualify for coverage,” Quincy says. Families of four making as much as $94,000 annually will receive tax credits from the federal government to help lower their insurance costs.

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