Insuring Your Health columnist Michelle Andrews helps you navigate the new insurance marketplaces that are scheduled to launch on Oct. 1.
Q: When must a consumer enroll in an exchange in order to start getting insurance benefits in January, 2014?
A: The online marketplaces will open for business on Oct. 1. That’s when people will be able to begin checking out the health plans that are available in their area and signing up. The open enrollment period will run through March of 2014. If you want coverage to begin on Jan. 1, though, you’ll generally need to sign up by Dec. 15 of this year, although some states may allow you a little more time. Still, consumer advocates that I’ve spoken with say that it’s probably not a good idea to put off applying for coverage until the last minute, because during this first year of operation the exchanges will probably be working out some kinks and the process may take longer than expected.