Health Care Exchange Opens Oct. 1

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The Affordable Care Act, also known as "Obamacare," was signed into law in March of 2010.

On October 1, that law will open up the U.S. health insurance exchange, allowing Americans to buy their own insurance online, after comparing plans from different companies.

Economists said one of the goals of the Affordable Care Act is to reduce the number of uninsured Americans, and in Montana alone, there are 195,000 people without health care.

Adrian Goodvoice -- a U.S. Navy and Army veteran -- said the military is paying his college tuition, but he's buried under a pile of medical bills after a rollover truck accident.

"So, it landed me in the hospital and have been having some issues since then," he said.

Goodvoice said his current health insurance didn't cover about $1,500 worth of hospital bills -- a big chunk of change for the unemployed father of two.

"And that's just medical expenses by themselves, and that doesn't include any treatment or anything like that, it's just all the x-rays and MRIs that I had to go through," Goodvoice said.

Goodvoice is one of more than 155,000 Montanans economists estimate will switch plans when the marketplace opens on October 1, hoping to lower monthly premiums and out-of-pocket costs.

"Health care has always been a very important component of the Montana economy," said Interim Health Care Director at UM's Bureau of Business and Economic Research, Paul Polzin.

Polzin said the U.S. economy has been slow to grow since the recession because many people weren't sure how the new health care law would affect their own budget.

He said their research looks at how issues and trends in the health care industry will affect the state's economy.

"And one of the interesting, or maybe even shocking things that came out of that was the low level of knowledge that people had about their insurance."

Polzin said choosing health insurance online will help more people understand their own coverage, and provide more options for businesses offering policies for employees.

He added, "October 1st is going to be a big day for both Montana businesses and Montana consumers."

Polzin said research shows the online marketplace will enhance competition among insurance companies, which could ultimately help people save money.

Goodvoice said, "I haven't gotten a chance to take a look at the web site, but I'm hoping that it's really going to be something that I can work with and use."

The Affordable Care Act also provides coverage for children with pre-existing conditions and for young adults under 26.

The health insurance exchange opens online at on October 1, and new health insurance coverage begins January 1, 2014.

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