The Affordable Care Act Is Open for Business

The six-month open enrollment period begins today.

Posted: 10/01/2013 08:30 AM EDT

Are you ready to apply for Obamacare? Despite being at the center of a bruising debate on Capitol Hill that could lead to a government shutdown, open enrollment for President Obama's signature domestic legislation starts today and will continue through March 31, 2014.

The Affordable Care Act requires all legal citizens to purchase health insurance or face a penalty. Anyone who does not currently have health care coverage can start comparison shopping for plans at HealthCare.gov. Consumers will have a choice between different categories of coverage, bronze, silver, gold and platinum. Some people may be eligible for tax credits that can help lower the price of the plan they choose.

"Americans who've lived for years in some cases with the fear that one illness could send them into bankruptcy, Americans who've been priced out of the market just because they've been sick once, they'll finally be able to afford coverage, quality, many of them for the first time in their lives," the president said Monday afternoon. "Some of them may be sick as we speak. And this is their best opportunity to get some security and some relief."

A survey released by the Commonwealth Fund on Monday found that three of four people are aware of the law's individual mandate, but only 4 of 10 know about the state- and federal-run health-care exchanges created to make insurance more affordable by making the marketplace more competitive. It also found that 76 percent are unaware that financial assistance is available to help people with low or moderate incomes pay for insurance.

The president and other administration officials have warned that because the health-care marketplace is new, there will likely be glitches. And although they've claimed that the online process to review and apply for a coverage plan is as easy as making a purchase on Amazon, some people may find it difficult to navigate the site.

The Department of Health and Human Services announced Monday that it has lined up more than 900 Champions for Coverage, a network of volunteers in every state to help people enroll in an insurance plan. Assistance will also be provided at local community health centers and libraries.

The Congressional Budget Office anticipates that in 2014, the Affordable Care Act will cover approximately 14 million people who are currently uninsured, including 6.8 million uninsured African-Americans.

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 (Photo: Adam Berry/Getty Images)

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