Changes in the way Americans purchase health care insurance and in health insurance practices are essential elements of the Affordable Care Act. Depending on your income and circumstances, the benefits of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that will be implemented in 2014 could help you reduce and manage your expenses.

As always, when laws such as this are introduced in Congress, the process of gaining full approval can be prolonged and contentious. Nonetheless, here’s what you can expect from the ACA in 2014.

Lower Costs

The following cost-saving measures go into effect for consumers in 2014:

  • An online competitive health insurance marketplace. The marketplace offers a choice of policies that meet benefit and consumer costs set by the government. The Open Enrollment period for 2015 coverage is November 15, 2014 to February 15, 2015.

The marketplace (or health insurance exchange) is open to people who don’t have health insurance and to those who have insurance but want to make a change in their coverage. The policies are offered by private companies and include a set of benefits known as “essential health benefits.” These benefits include many preventive care services, hospital visits, maternity and newborn care, prescription drugs, mental health, and recovery from substance abuse.

Most Americans can make one application to the marketplace that allows them to compare the health insurance policies they are eligible for in their state side by side. For more information and to enroll, visit www.healthcare.gov or call toll-free 800.318.2596.

  • Tax credits making health insurance more affordable. Middle-income individuals and families who are between 100 and 400 percent of the poverty line and unable to obtain affordable health insurance from another source will be eligible for tax credits, as well as affordable copayments, coinsurance, and deductibles.

Additional Changes

These changes will also debut in 2014:

  • Increased access to Medicaid. Anyone who earns less than 133 percent of the poverty level ($14,000 for an individual and $29,000 for a family of four) can enroll in Medicaid.
  • Required health insurance coverage. Most people who can afford insurance will be required to purchase coverage.
  • Coverage for individuals who participate in clinical trials cannot be dropped. Previously, health insurers could drop or limit benefits for anyone who chose to enroll in a clinical trial that treated cancer or other life-threatening conditions.
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