Plan details

Health insurance enrollment opens today through the new federal health insurance marketplace.

To sign up for a plan, visit www.healthcare.gov or call 800-318-2596.

Pam Riggs, co-owner of the Charleston Postcard Company on James Island, pays $6,045.31 a month for health insurance to cover three full-time employees and their families.

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For past coverage of health care reform and how it will affect South Carolinians, bookmark The Post and Courier’s Guide to the Affordable Care Act, www.postandcourier.com/obamacare.

That’s up from $4,898.74 for the same United Healthcare plan earlier this year.

Since then, the company renewed its contract with United Healthcare, which drove up the price of their plans, and one of the company’s employees turned 55, also affecting the total price.

“We are a little, little company,” Riggs said. “It’s terrible.”

Riggs is hoping the Affordable Care Act, despite its flaws, may help lower her 38-year-old company’s health care costs.

“We’re definitely going to research it and see,” Riggs said. “The problem is we just don’t know what the new exchange is going to do. … We don’t know what the rates will be.”

Starting today, it should all become much clearer.

Riggs can shop for or purchase insurance through the new federal health insurance marketplace at healthcare.gov for the first time Tuesday.

This marketplace, also referred to as an insurance exchange, is one of the major building blocks of the controversial health care overhaul, often called “Obamacare.”

Enrollment through the marketplace will remain open for six months through March 31.

Experts believe many people may browse the marketplace for coverage before actually purchasing a plan. Coverage under these plans won’t begin until Jan. 1 at the earliest.

Most people won’t need to purchase a plan through the marketplace. More than 80 percent of South Carolinians are already insured and don’t need to alter that coverage to comply with the law.

Virginia King, community affairs manager at the Franklin C. Fetter Family Health Center in Charleston, said the health center is one of many community resources that can help uninsured residents research their options under the law.

“We’re inviting them to come by, look at the (online) marketplace, see what it’s all about … and get a feel for what’s out there and see what’s conducive to their medical and their financial needs,” King said.

“The bottom line is we just want people to look at it. The goal is to let individuals make their own decisions.”

Individuals must enroll in a health insurance plan next year to comply with the Affordable Care Act. The penalty for failing to enroll is $95.

Reach Lauren Sausser at 937-5598.