President Obama’s health care law provides several new protections for consumers. For example, under the Obama Health Care plan, insurance companies can no longer refuse coverage because of pre-existing conditions, nor can they charge you for preventative care services. However, Obama’s health care law also imposes a new responsibility on consumers – mandatory health insurance policies for all who can afford them.

Rules

Beginning in 2014, anyone who can afford a health insurance policy must either purchase one or pay a penalty. If you owe the penalty in 2014, it will be equal to 1 percent of your income or $95, whichever is higher. Under Obama Care, this fee will increase after 2014. Furthermore, it isn’t a substitute for health insurance, so you will have to pay any medical costs you incur during the year as well.

Coverage Options

To avoid the Obama Health Care penalty, you may qualify for Medicaid under your state’s income standards, be covered by Medicare, be covered by veterans’ health insurance, be covered through an acceptable employer plan or purchase individual insurance.

Medicaid

The Obama Health Care plan allows states to expand Medicaid coverage to individuals and families with incomes of up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level. However, not every state is expanding Medicaid. If you qualify for Medicaid, all of your health insurance expenses will be covered and you won’t pay any premiums. If you don’t qualify for Medicaid, Obama Care requires you to find alternative coverage.

Medicare/ Veterans’ Health Insurance

You may be eligible for Medicare if you are over age 65, receiving Social Security Disability benefits or suffering from kidney failure. If you qualify for Medicare, you may or may not pay a premium, depending on your circumstances and the type of coverage you choose.

Veterans’ health insurance is available to veterans who served in the military and were not dishonorably discharged. Most veterans who qualify for veterans health insurance, pay little to no money out-of-pocket for coverage.

Employer Plans

Employer plans will only qualify as acceptable if they meet minimum coverage standards under the health care law. As of 2014, all policies must cover hospitalizations, outpatient care, emergency services, mental health and substance abuse services, prescription drugs, rehabilitative services, maternity and newborn care, laboratory services, pediatric care and preventative care. To receive coverage through an employer-sponsored plan, you must typically pay a portion of the premiums.

Individual Insurance Policies

Like employer plans, individual insurance policies must meet minimum coverage standards in order to help you avoid the penalty for failing to purchase health insurance under the Obama Health Care law. When you buy an individual insurance policy, you will be responsible for the full amount of the premiums. However, consumers with lower incomes may qualify for discounted premiums.

Finding a Policy

If you don’t currently have health insurance, you should do your best to secure a policy before Obama Care becomes active in January of 2014. If you are eligible for an employer-sponsored plan but haven’t yet enrolled, consider doing so before 2014. Likewise, if you believe you may qualify for Medicaid, Medicare or Veterans’ healthcare coverage, apply as soon as possible.

As of October 2013, you will also be able to shop for health insurance through the Health Insurance Marketplace, which is a new system that allows you to apply for multiple types of insurance with one application. After filling out the application, you will be able to see all of the private health insurance plans available to you, and you will learn whether you qualify for free coverage under Medicaid.