Plus they'll get a break on costs each time they visit the doctor or pick up a prescription.

But price isn't everything, says Bruce Benton, executive vice president of the insurance agency Genesis Financial and Insurance Services. He advises consumers to look deeper into what each plan covers and whether their doctors are included in the network.

Exchange vs. Medi-Cal

Individuals earning up to about $46,000 and families earning up to $94,000 are eligible for subsidies when they buy a health insurance plan through the exchange. But for lower-income people, there is the state's Medi-Cal program, which has no monthly premiums.

Should business once again begin to slow for Mike and Annette Heacox, and their income drops to where it was in 2010 and 2011, the couple could qualify for Medi-Cal coverage.

"People on the income threshold could easily, in any given year, flip between Medi-Cal managed care and the exchange," says Dylan Roby, director of health economics and evaluation research at the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research.

To avoid disrupting their relationship with their doctors and their health plan, Roby suggests customers like the Heacoxes choose an insurer that offers both Medi-Cal and exchange plans, if possible.

Although the networks are often different between Medi-Cal and exchange plans — even when offered by the same insurer — sometimes there is overlap.

That way the only thing that changes, Roby says, is "once they cross that eligibility threshold into the exchange from Medi-Cal they start paying their own premiums."

Resources and links

Here are a few websites to explore your options:

California's Health insurance exchange: http://www.CoveredCA.com

To find Health insurance exchange information outside of California: http://www.Healthcare.gov

To find an insurance agent certified to sell plans through the marketplaces: http://www.nahu.org/consumer/findagent2.cfm

healthcare@latimes.com

Zamosky writes about healthcare and health insurance. She is also the author of a new book, "Healthcare, Insurance and You: The Savvy Consumer's Guide."