Q. When can we start using the new health reform law? How should we apply for it? Is some agency going to send us something or call us or what?
A A good question, and one that is very much on the minds of the state and federal agencies responsible for making the Affordable Care Act work.
Here's why. "We did a national survey recently that found that 78 percent of uninsured people don't know anything is changing," said Jenny Sullivan, director of the Best Practices Institute at Enroll America, a private nonprofit group working with states to get the word out.
The quick-and-easy answer to your question is a website called Healthcare.gov. It's the federal government's hub for health reform information, written and designed for consumers. I urge you to visit it at once; if you poke around a little you'll learn a lot about what's going to happen with health reform, when, and how it affects you.
As you'll discover, the most significant and far-reaching parts of the Affordable Care Act take effect as of Jan. 1, 2014. If you need affordable health insurance, you'll be able to sign up for it starting this fall on the new state exchanges, which the federal government is now politely asking everyone to call Marketplaces.
Some states have chosen to operate their own Marketplaces, and some are leaving the job to the federal government. Either way, if things work as everyone hopes, folks will hear about the Marketplaces in many and varied ways. And for sure, you'll be able to find a link to your state's Marketplace on Healthcare.gov.
The state of California, for instance, is at this moment inviting all kinds of organizations to apply for money to promote its Marketplace, dubbed Covered California. It envisions enlisting help from community groups, churches, hospitals, clinics, county health departments, schools and colleges of all kinds, Native American groups, Chambers of Commerce, various trade and industry associations, and so on.
Some groups have already started. Alameda County, for instance, is running a campaign on billboards, buses, and transit shelters featuring the amusing poster shown above. The idea is to get more eligible people enrolled in Medicaid, which is expanding under health reform.
Every Marketplace will also have plenty of individual assistance, both in person and over the phone, to help people select and enroll in plans.
By the way, you can also start learning about the new law by downloading our free consumer guide: Health Reform: 7 Things You Need to Know Now.
So with any luck, you'll hear about health reform often and in many ways over the coming year.