• Exactly what is happening on Tuesday? For the first time, Americans will be able to buy health insurance online, by phone or in person through a new marketplace created by the Affordable Care Act.

  • What's the California marketplace called -- and how do I find it? Covered California, and its website is http://coveredca.com. If you prefer to sign up by phone, call 800-300-1506. Multilingual call centers will be staffed from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays. You can also ask that information be sent to you by mail.

  • Do all Californians need to buy health insurance through this marketplace? No. People who have insurance through their employers or through government programs like Veterans Affairs, Medicare or Medi-Cal can keep their insurance.

  • Do I have to buy insurance on Tuesday? No. The "open enrollment" period doesn't end until March 31. But if you want the insurance to take effect Jan. 1, you'll need to buy it by Dec. 15.

  • What will the exchanges offer? You'll find a variety of private insurance plans with familiar names such as Anthem Blue Cross, Kaiser and Health Net. You'll also be able to enroll in the newly expanded Medi-Cal program if your income is low enough.


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  • Who can use Covered California to buy insurance? California residents who are citizens or legal permanent residents. Illegal immigrants are not eligible.

  • Can small businesses buy insurance on the exchange? Yes, employers with 50 or fewer employees also will be able to purchase insurance. And many will be eligible for substantial tax credits if they use the exchange.

  • How are the costs of the plans calculated? The only factors that can affect premiums of new insurance plans starting in 2014 are your adjusted gross income (income after specific deductions), age, family size, ZIP code and the type of plan you buy. If your income is low enough, you'll qualify for tax credits that will bring down the cost of insurance.

  • What do the variety of plans offer? Under the law, all newly sold insurance plans must meet certain requirements and cover 10 essential health benefits. All plans offer free preventive care, and almost all cap out-of-pocket costs to $6,350 per individual and $12,700 per family.