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How Insurance Exchanges Will Work

En español | The new exchanges are being compared to websites like Travelocity or Orbitz, but they'll be set up for you to buy health insurance rather than book travel and hotels.

Starting Jan. 1, 2014, those who want to buy private health insurance for themselves and their families will be able to use these state-run exchanges to find better deals. Instead of searching individually for an insurer, you'll be able to use the exchange to choose a private plan from a menu of options. Plans cannot refuse to sell you a policy and must comply with the new consumer protections.

Insurance plans will vary-- from generous to modest-- but each plan must include basic, comprehensive medical coverage and prescription drug benefits. As with the online travel services, you'll be able to compare the plans' costs and benefits head-to-head online. What policies will cost is not yet known, but there will be annual limits on how much you have to spend on your deductible and copays. Subsidies or tax credits will be available if you have a low or moderate income.

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