In the days and hours before health insurance becomes available to all under the terms of the Affordable Care Act, many consumers were still waiting for some certainty about the type and cost of coverage they could expect.
Beginning Tuesday, North Carolinians without health insurance, or those who currently pay their own way, can compare costs and coverage plans offered by two insurers – Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina and Coventry Health Care of the Carolinas – in an online marketplace called an "exchange."
Enterpreneur Matt Whitley, who is building his own business of custom-prepared juices, hopes to see savings by shopping the exchange. His current Blue Cross Blue Shield policy premium is expected to rise next year, from $205 to $286 per month.
"To the market place I go," he said.
Whitley said, given his income, that he expects to qualify for some help with the cost. Individuals who make less than about $45,000 would be eligible for a tax credit to help defray the cost of coverage.
Cook Wendell Groce hopes the exchange plans will allow him to finally afford some kind of coverage.
"I was in the hospital a few days ago and they asked me for insurance. I didn't have insurance so I didn't know how to take care of that," he said.
The exchange is a welcome option for him. "I would love to hear about it," he said.
Duke Law Professor Barak Richman says the exchanges won't change how costly insurance can be.
"The Affordable Care Act does very little to change the cost of health care," he said. Instead, it will force individuals to have a greater understanding of costs they may not have considered.
"They will recognize how costly insurance is and hopefully recognize that it's not just the reflection of the cost of insurance, it's a reflection of the cost of health care," Richman said.
States had the option of setting up their own exchange or allowing the federal government to do it. North Carolina chose the latter.
Coverage through the exchange-based health plans starts Jan. 1, 2014, when the Affordable Care Act requires that most people have insurance or pay a fine.