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Online federal health care exchange kicks in, Montanans begin signing up

Published On: Dec 24 2013 07:24:14 AM MST   Updated On: Oct 01 2013 10:11:13 PM MDT

Starting Tuesday, uninsured Montana residents can buy insurance through one of three insurers available to Montanans in the federal government’s new online marketplace.

Plans are available with varying rates through Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Montana, PacificSource and the Montana Insurance CO-OP.

However, residents are being warned against possible scams, including the possibility of telemarketers asking seniors to switch coverage through Medicare, or scammers selling a product under the guise of the Affordable Care Act.

In Montana, state lawmakers have said 'no' to expansion of Medicaid, so residents who earn under 100 percent of the country’s poverty mark won’t qualify for the new program’s subsidies.

The new online system experienced some technical hiccups on Tuesday, and NBC Montana staff observed at least two instances of a message alerting that the system was busy, but also saying a log-in screen would kick in eventually.

Residents who enroll in private insurance though the new program between October 1 and December 15 would be able to initiate health coverage on January 1.  Open enrollment closes on March 31, 2014.

Residents who are able to afford health insurance through the new marketplace will need to sign up by the end of March to avoid either a $95 per adult or 1 percent of taxable income penalty (whichever is higher). The once-a-year penalty increases year-by-year.

Resources are available for people who need assistance signing up through the program. Missoula County’s Partnership Health Center was able to hire three counselors, with use of a federal grant, who are able to help people sign up for the marketplace.

The Missoula Public Library will also be teaching courses on how to navigate the website. More information can be found by calling the library at (406) 721-2665.