MARSHALL - While the funding for the Affordable Care Act, known popularly as "Obamacare," is still being fought over at the federal level, the MNsure health care exchange started accepting enrollments today and will go into effect on Jan. 1 of next year.
A health care exchange is designed to be a one-stop shopping market for health care plans where consumers cab compare insurance plans side-by-side on the MNsure website and pick the best available option.
As of Jan. 1, 2014, all U.S. citizens and legal residents will be required to buy health care coverage. Penalties for non-compliance start at $95 per adult or 1 percent of taxable income in 2013, increasing to $325 or 2 percent of taxable income in 2015, $695 or 2.5 percent in 2016, and increasing annually year by year after.
Controversy rages about the actual effects of the ACA on health coverage pricing and availability, though many people are simply uncertain of the long-term effects.
"I'm covered under my parents' plan," said Blake Hofstater, a freshman at Southwest Minnesota State University from White Bear Lake. "I'll probably be on my own insurance plan when I'm 26."
Nicole McQueen, an SMSU freshman from New Prague, is also covered by her parents' plan and expects to be until she is 26, as the ACA allows, but expressed some reservations.
"The plan is not even written up well," McQueen said. "It needs to be revised. There are too many gaps in it to be effective in our country."
Jessica Hilgemann is retail manager of Aramark, which runs the restaurants in the SMSU Student Center. She has about 50-full time employees.
Part-time student employees are not affected by the ACA.
Jack Rehkamp is a retired businessman.
"I don't know how you can take this huge program and make it work," Rehkamp said. "I think you have to start over from scratch. When (Speaker of the House Nancy) Pelosi said we have to pass the bill to see what's in it, I think that tells you what you need to know about it."
Quinn Horvath is a funeral director with only one full-time employee, whose business does not fall under the provisions of the ACA.
"I'm confused," Horvath said. "In theory this should work. You add healthy young people to the pool, who traditionally don't have insurance and spread the cost. But it seems to be having the opposite effect, if reports that costs are going up are accurate. I don't understand the disconnect."