Examining your health insurance options under Obamacare

Starting Oct. 1, millions of Californians can start signing up for health insurance under the federal Affordable Care Act.

In addition to new coverage options, the healthcare law changes the rules of the insurance game for many consumers. It also requires most Americans to get health insurance or pay a penalty.

Here are some answers to commonly asked questions. Please share your comments or ask questions at healthcare@latimes.com. Submissions must include names and phone numbers.

Do I need to do anything right now?

You have time to consider your options. You can start signing up for health insurance Tuesday through Covered California, the state's new marketplace.

The earliest policies take effect is Jan. 1. You'll need to buy a health plan no later than Dec. 15 if you want your benefits to kick in at the start of the year. Enrollment for the state exchange runs through March 31. Medi-Cal, the state's Medicaid program, accepts applicants year round.

Where do I go to enroll?

In California, go to the Covered California website or call the health marketplace at (800) 300-1506. The state can also refer you to community groups, insurance agents and government offices that offer enrollment help in person.

Outside California, visit HealthCare.gov to find the link and other contact information for the marketplace in your state.

I get my insurance through work. Will that be affected next year because of all this?

Most people with health insurance through work won't be directly affected by the overhaul.

Employers will keep adjusting their health benefits as they have for years, but in most cases those changes in coverage or worker contributions have little to do with the Affordable Care Act. Changes are driven largely by employers' efforts to reduce their healthcare costs.

How much will this new health coverage cost?

That depends on your age, where you live, the level of coverage you want and whether you qualify for a federal subsidy based on your income.

Four basic levels of coverage are sold through Covered California: Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum. Bronze plans are generally the least expensive, while Platinum plans are the priciest.

For example, a family of four in Los Angeles earning $65,000 a year could pay $384 a month for a mid-level Silver plan.

In general, more comprehensive plans have more expensive premiums but have lower out-of-pocket costs for medical care. For instance, a Bronze plan on average covers 60% of a person's total healthcare costs. At the high end, Platinum plans cover 90%.

People younger than 30 also have the option of a less expensive and more limited policy.

There are subsidies: Individuals earning less than $45,960 annually may qualify for federal tax credits that lower their monthly premium. Subsidies are available for a family of four making less than $94,200.

For a sense of what health insurance may cost you, check the state's calculator.