What is a health insurance exchange or marketplace?

Learn more about the health insurance marketplace, or exchanges, as they're commonly referred to.

What you need to know

The exchange, also called a marketplace, is where you can buy health insurance. Exchanges were set up by the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) to make it easier for people to see what policies are available in an area and make a purchase.

The most common and well-known exchanges are run by either the states or the federal government. On these, you can see most health plans available in your state, compare policies, and submit an enrollment request. You can also apply for assistance to lower the cost of your plan. Healthcare.gov is the main portal, and handles the exchange function for the states that did not create an exchange.

Private exchanges, like Policygenius, are similar to Healthcare.gov. Policygenius in particular is designed to provide more support during the shopping process and to make specific recommendations based on your preferences. Policygenius allows you to see all Healthcare.gov plans, plus "off-exchange" plans that may provide additional options.

On either exchange type, you should be able to verify important things like: whether or not your medications are covered, whether your physicians are on the network each health plan uses, and what your copays and deductible amounts are on each plan. Most should have a way to speak with insurance agents to help you find the plan that best fits your needs.