What To Know About ACA Coverage

Affordable Care Act Plans Eliminate Rejection for Preexisting Conditions

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If you don't have health insurance through work or a working spouse, you're guaranteed access to health coverage through the Affordable Care Act (ACA). You will not be charged extra or denied coverage for preexisting conditions, and ACA plans must provide certain essential medical benefits.

Here are five things you need to know about the ACA.

Key Takeaways

  • The Affordable Care Act gives everyone a way to buy health insurance if they want it.
  • You can choose from four levels of service—bronze, silver, gold, and platinum—which vary in cost and coverage.
  • Open enrollment is your chance to add or change your insurance plan, and it happens from Nov. 1 to Jan. 15 each year.
  • You won't pay a penalty for not having insurance.
  • You might be eligible for health care subsidies, even if your income isn't low.

Everyone Has Access to the Marketplace

The ACA went into effect on Jan. 1, 2014. It put several protections in place, including requiring insurance plans to cover those with preexisting health conditions, giving young adults the option to stay on a parent's plan until age 26, and making it illegal for health insurance companies to cancel your coverage because you're sick.

Under the ACA, premiums can only be affected by these five things:

  • Your age
  • Number of people in your family
  • Tobacco use
  • Adjustment for your geographic area
  • The type of plan you choose

If you don't have insurance through an employer or spouse, you can purchase a plan through your state's Health Insurance Marketplace. Also called health insurance exchanges, these sites show you the plans available in your area so you can compare premiums. Some states, like California, have their own Marketplace websites, while others use the national one at HealthCare.gov.

Health Exchange Premiums Vary

Marketplace plans vary significantly when it comes to cost. The plans available are divided into different "metal" tiers: platinum, gold, silver, and bronze.

Platinum plans have the highest premiums, with insurance companies paying 90% of your costs. The bronze plans have the lowest premiums, and the insurance company pays about 60% of your eligible health care costs while you pay 40%. Silver and gold plans fall in between.


The average monthly premium for the lowest-cost bronze plan was $329 in 2022, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. For the lowest-cost silver plan, it was $428, and for gold plans, it was $462.

Within these tiers, you can choose plans with lower or higher deductibles. To calculate your maximum potential cost for the year, add up your monthly premiums for the year plus the out-of-pocket maximum that is listed. That gives you a picture of the worst-case scenario when it comes to your health care costs.

Open Enrollment Occurs Once Per Year

You can only enroll in a Marketplace ACA plan during open enrollment or during a special enrollment period. Open enrollment begins each fall and is from Nov. 1 through Jan. 15, with coverage starting Jan. 1 if you sign up by Dec. 15.

If you have a significant life change, you are entitled to a special enrollment period. Life changes include:

  • Getting married or divorced
  • Having or adopting a baby
  • Moving
  • Losing health insurance coverage
  • Becoming a U.S. citizen
  • Leaving incarceration

To apply for a plan during a special enrollment period, visit HealthCare.gov or your state's Marketplace website. Indicate you're entitled to a special enrollment period. You'll need to state the reason and you may need to provide proof of the change, such as a marriage certificate or divorce decree.

Health Insurance Is No Longer Required, But You May Still Want It

You have the option to not have health insurance, and you won't pay a penalty for it.

When the ACA was initially passed, there was a tax penalty for not purchasing health insurance. The tax penalty was repealed as part of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act passed in 2017. The last year you were subject to the tax penalty was 2018.

That means that you can go without health insurance without paying a tax penalty. While going without might be tempting to ease your budget, consider that medical expenses, illness-related work loss, or both contributed to 66.5% of personal bankruptcies from 2013 to 2016 among respondents. Going without health insurance could have serious long-term consequences.

Health Insurance Tax Credits and Subsidies

There is a tax credit, or subsidy, available to make health insurance premiums more affordable. The amount of your tax credit depends on your income. You can apply some or all of your tax credit to your monthly health insurance premiums to lower the costs.

This tax credit is available for singles and families with modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) at 100% to 400% of the poverty line. An eligible MAGI for 2022 would be less than $54,360 for singles and $111,000 for a family of four.


The American Rescue Plan expanded health insurance subsidies. For example, those with income levels above 400% of the federal poverty line will be required to contribute no more than 8.5% of their household income to health insurance, and those with incomes at or below 150% of the federal poverty line will have fully subsidized health care plans.

In addition to tax credits, many states expanded their Medicaid programs to include individuals at or below 138% of the poverty level, or $25,268 in 2022 for a family of two.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Who qualifies for ACA coverage?

You can buy health insurance through the marketplace if you live in the U.S. legally, you're not incarcerated, and you don't have a Medicare plan. Whether your premiums are subsidized, though, will depend on your household income.

When does ACA coverage start?

If you sign up during open enrollment, your health insurance benefits will kick in Jan. 1 (as long as you sign up by Dec. 15 and pay your premium). You won't be covered until you pay your premium. If you enroll during a special enrollment period, then your coverage will begin on the first day of the month after you sign up (for instance, if you get married) or on the day of the event if you have or adopt a child (even if you enroll up to 60 days afterward).

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  1. GovInfo. "Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act," Pages 124 Stat. 162, 173.

  2. HealthCare.gov. "How To Get or Stay on a Parent’s Plan."

  3. HealthCare.gov. "Rights and Protections."

  4. HealthCare.gov. "How Insurance Companies Set Health Premiums."

  5. HealthCare.gov. "The Marketplace in Your State."

  6. HealthCare.gov. "The Health Plan Categories: Bronze, Silver, Gold & Platinum."

  7. Kaiser Family Foundation. "Average Marketplace Premiums by Metal Tier, 2018-2022."

  8. HealthCare.gov. "When Can You Get Health Insurance?"

  9. HealthCare.gov. "Enroll in or Change 2022 Plans — Only With a Special Enrollment Period."

  10. Congress.gov. "H.R.1 - An Act to Provide for Reconciliation Pursuant to Titles II and V of the Concurrent Resolution on the Budget for Fiscal Year 2018."

  11. American Journal of Public Health. "Medical Bankruptcy: Still Common Despite the Affordable Care Act," Page 432.

  12. HealthCare.gov. "How To Save on Your Monthly Insurance Bill With a Premium Tax Credit."

  13. HealthCare.gov. "Premium Tax Credit."

  14. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. "American Rescue Plan and the Marketplace."

  15. Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation. "2022 Poverty Guidelines: 48 Contiguous States (all states except Alaska and Hawaii)," Page 1.

  16. Kaiser Family Foundation. "Explaining Health Care Reform: Questions About Health Insurance Subsidies."

  17. HealthCare.gov. "Are You Eligible To Use the Marketplace?"

  18. Healthcare.gov. "Complete Your Enrollment and Pay Your First Premium."

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