Skip Navigation

Fall 2013, Volume 21, Number 4

Photo of two people on a farm next to a sign that reads Sign Up for Heatlh Care Coverage

Sign Up for Health Care Coverage

The Affordable Care Act is about to move into high gear.

Starting October 1, 2013, Americans who are uninsured or who buy their own health insurance coverage will have a new, hassle-free way to shop for insurance: the Health Insurance Marketplace. The site provides easy-to-understand information about all coverage options for consumers.

To prepare for the Marketplace's opening, the Federal Government has revamped its website. (A Spanish version is available at The government has also launched a new consumer call center: 800-318-2596.

"The new website and toll-free number have a simple mission: to make sure every American who needs health coverage has the information they need to make choices that are right for themselves and their families—or their businesses," said U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

The website has information about benefits and key deadlines, and describes how the new Marketplace will work. There are also new resources, videos, and checklists.

How to Apply

"Consumers can get a head start by beginning to explore their options now," said Suzanne C. Fields, M.S.W., L.I.C.S.W., SAMHSA's Senior Advisor to the Administrator for Health Care Financing.

All plans offered on the Marketplace must cover a comprehensive set of benefits, including physician visits, preventive care, hospital stays, prescriptions, and mental and substance use disorder services. The plans must also treat everyone fairly, meaning that discrimination against pre-existing conditions—such as mental and/or substance use disorders—will be banned.

The private companies offering coverage through the Marketplace offer a range of plans to suit consumers' budgets and meet their needs.

Health Insurance Marketplace Logo

The Marketplace simplifies the search for health coverage by gathering all available options together in one place. Consumers can find out what they're eligible for by filling out a single application.

The application results will let consumers know if they can get lower costs on monthly premiums or lower out-of-pocket costs for private insurance plans. The application results will also tell consumers if they qualify for free or low-cost coverage through Medicaid or the Children's Health Insurance Program. Because they'll have a clear picture of what they'll pay and what benefits and protections they'll receive, consumers can then easily do "apples-to-apples" comparisons of their options based on price, benefits, quality, and other features.

Some states will be running their own Marketplace, where consumers can apply for coverage, compare plans, and enroll in coverage directly through their state's site.

Although the application process is designed to be very user-friendly, help is available to those who need it.

With the opening of the new toll-free call center (800-318-2596), consumers can now talk to trained customer service representatives 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Representatives will be able to provide information in both English and Spanish, and a language line can assist callers in more than 150 additional languages.

Consumers who need extra help exploring their options or completing the application can take advantage of several other types of assistance (see "How do I get help enrolling in the Marketplace?").

While enrollment begins in October, actual coverage begins as early as January 1, 2014.

Additional Resources

  • Toll-free Call Center (800-318-2596): Provides access to trained customer service representatives who can offer information in English and Spanish 24 hours a day, seven days a week. A language line also offers assistance in more than 150 additional languages.
  • Health Insurance Marketplace: HealthCare.Gov: Information for consumers about their health insurance options and enrollment possibilities.
  • Health Insurance Marketplace — Spanish-version: version of
  • CMS Health Insurance Marketplace for Providers and Professionals: Offers service providers and organizations sample articles, training materials, and other enrollment-related resources, plus information about upcoming webinars and other events to help people enroll. It also features research on how to promote the Marketplace, target outreach efforts, and more.
  • SAMHSA's Health Reform Resource: Features resources such as a Behavioral Health Treatment Needs Assessment Toolkit for States, national and state estimates of the prevalence of behavioral health conditions among the uninsured, fact sheets on health reform, and more.

Share This Article: