What is a health insurance exchange?

It is one-stop marketplace where individuals, families and small businesses can compare prices and benefits among multiple private health insurance plans.

Who will use the exchange?

It will be used largely by people who can’t get affordable insurance through the workplace and by those on public health plans, including Medical Assistance and Minnesota Care. Businesses with fewer than 50 employees can also buy group plans through the exchange.

How will it work?

Most people will be have access to the exchange through a website, where a questionnaire will help narrow the choices based on medical needs, family size, income and other criteria. A phone number will also be available, with agents available to help people through the enrollment process.

When will it start?

Open enrollment will begin Oct. 1 for those buying coverage that will take effect Jan. 1, 2014.

How can I find out if I’m eligible for financial help?

The sign-up process at the exchange will automatically determine whether people qualify for discounts on their premiums, subsidies for out-of-pocket expenses or coverage through Medicaid or Medicare. Minnesota has raised income limits for single people on Medical Assistance to $8,124 a year.

What if I don’t want to buy insurance on the exchange?

Individuals, families and small businesses still have the option of going to a broker or an insurance company to buy health coverage. Federal law requires all individuals to have coverage starting Jan. 1 or pay a fine. The penalty in 2014 for individuals is up to $95 a year or up to 1 percent of income, whichever is greater. It rises to $695 or 2.5 percent of income by 2016. For families, the first year fee is $285 and up to $2,085 in 2016.

Where can I get more information?

The state recently launched a new health insurance website at www.mn.gov/hix. Jackie Crosby