Federal health care exchanges go live Tuesday, giving those without insurance a chance to sign up for coverage that could begin in January.

 

Health advocates are already hailing greater access to care -- insurance plans offered in the exchange will have to cover bases such as preventive medicine.

For Lynn Keltz, director of the Pennsylvania Mental Health Consumers Association, it means she should be able to find plans providing mental health care, something that hasn't been true for the plan she's found on the private market.

"I have hospitalization for physical health care, but I can't get the therapy if my depression gets the better of me. I can get the meds, but I can't get therapy," Keltz said. "So I will be one of the first people to try this out."

The average individual plan in Pennsylvania's exchange costs less than the national average, according to Ray Landis of the AARP, but Tuesday's launch will mark the first time people can see the specific plans and what they'll cost.

"That's one of the things that they have kept not public until Oct. 1 because, obviously, the insurers submitted bids, and those bids will be revealed," he said.

Sharon Ward, with the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, noted that Pennsylvanians can only get federal assistance to buy health insurance if they go to the exchange.

"And that's very important because there are lots of places that are opening up that say that they're exchanges, and you can shop for insurance there," Ward said. "But individuals have to get their insurance through the exchange in order to get the subsidies."

People should brace for imperfect implementation in the exchange's early days, she said.