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Health Care Reform:

Health Insurance & Affordable Care Act

7 Surprising Things About the Affordable Care Act

7. The health insurance that's available should improve whether you buy a new plan through the Marketplace or not.

For most people, the best deals will come from health insurance policies that are part of your benefits package at work or bought through the new  Marketplaces, because the Marketplaces are the only places you can use tax credits to help pay for your plan.

But if you're self-employed and make too much money to qualify for tax credits, it may be worth your while to look for coverage outside the Marketplaces, says Levitt of the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Under the law, all new plans sold on the individual market will have to meet a set of minimum requirements.  These requirements vary a bit from state to state, but all new plans will now have to cover 10 essential benefits, including some that were often missing from individually purchased plans in the past, such as coverage for mental health problems, substance abuse, and maternity care.

Why look outside your Marketplace? You may find the same insurance companies, "but they're offering a slightly different plan, maybe with a different network of providers and a different cost-sharing structure" that may better suit your needs, Levitt says. Or you may find plans from companies that decided not to participate in the Marketplace.

Be aware, though, that Marketplace plans may have lower administrative costs than plans you might buy through an insurance broker. So far, administrative costs being added to plans in the Marketplaces range from about 1.5% in states that are running their own Marketplace to 3.5% in states where the federal government is operating the Marketplace, Levitt says. Meanwhile, commissions to brokers, which are added to the premium, have historically been in the double digits, he says.

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