Got questions about the Affordable Care Act? In a regular feature, the WHYY/NewsWorks Health and Science Desk is providing "The Short Answer."

Today's question

What's happening next with the Affordable Care Act? Can you give me a time line?

The short answer

Up next: Insurance exchanges open in October.

Starting in January: Most Americans are supposed to have insurance, and insurance companies are required to insure people even if they have pre-existing conditions.

More details

Insurance exchanges are on track to start enrolling people on Oct. 1. These are online marketplaces where people who currently do not have insurance can purchase it. Government subsidies are available depending on income.

If you need insurance for 2014, you have between Oct. 1, 2013, and March 31, 2014, to enroll. After that, you can only enroll for 2014 if you have a "qualifying life event," such as changes in your income and changes in your family size.

What else is happening?

Starting Jan. 1, almost all Americans are supposed to have health insurance. If you don't have insurance for more than three months of the year, you face a penalty by the end of the year.

Also happening starting in January: Insurance companies cannot turn you away because of pre-existing conditions.

And insurance companies have to include "essential benefits." It's a list of conditions that must be covered, from birth control to mental health care.

What's not happening?

The rule that companies with more than 50 employees have to insure them has been delayed and won't happen until 2015 now.

The law's limits on how much consumers have to pay for out-of-pocket insurance costs per year — a popular feature in the minds of many consumers, and highly unpopular feature among insurance companies — has been delayed until 2015 as well.

Also, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell has called on the Obama administration to delay the Oct. 1 opening of exchanges because there is some serious concern over the safety of people's personal data.

Could the law still go away?

That's highly unlikely. It has been upheld by the Supreme Court. But the delays have dealt some serious blows to the law. Some experts say if the opening of the exchanges were to be delayed, it could really shake consumer confidence in the legislation.

However, in summary: As it stands right now, starting in October, the exchanges open, and starting in January we're supposed to have insurance. And insurance companies can't turn people away and will have to provide certain benefits.

The 2010 health law goes into effect Jan. 1, 2014. How will it affect you, your wallet and your health? Email your questions to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it  or tweet us at @NewsWorksWHYY.