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Finding value in health care and #obamacarewitherin

A healthcare reform specialist helps people select insurance plans at the free Affordable Care Act (ACA) Enrollment Fair at Pasadena City College on November 19, 2013 in Pasadena, California. Many small insurers expected a bonanza of new customers when Healthcare.gov began on Oct. 1, but the website's problems made the first weeks very quiet for them.

If you met me casually, you wouldn’t know I’m sick.

I seem like a pretty healthy 38 year old woman —not someone with an exquisitely-detailed knowledge of health insurance, medical bills, Explanation of Benefits statements, and the piles of paper that arrive in the mail after a visit to a doctor or hospital.

I have a chronic disease called endometriosis. It’s caused when uterine tissue grows elsewhere in a woman’s body. My first surgery (an emergency) came with a $19,000 hospital bill. Surprise!

Maintaining my health these days involves some vigilance, but as a reporter, it’s a great gift: A window into health care, one of the biggest personal finance issues in most people’s lives.

Most of us still get health insurance through our jobs; the Affordable Care Act is changing that landscape, though.

This week, we’re finally getting a chance to dig into what kinds of plans people are buying on the state and federal insurance exchanges. Marketplace Reporter Dan Gorenstein points out that 62 percent of people picked a Silver, or mid-tier plan.

That could mean a few things.

Maybe they want a plan with some pretty substantial coverage, or they got a good federal subsidy for a Silver plan. Or, like me, they are sick, and wanted something with a little more oomph to it than the lower-tier and less-expensive Bronze plan.

It all depends on how you define a “good value” for your care. Awhile back, I did a story for Marketplace and the New York Times about how to get the most bang for your buck out of health care. Turns out, it’s totally subjective! A father of three was willing to pay more to get his kids in quickly, while a 27-year-old valued a doctor who she could email.

As for Obamacare, we’ve got a slightly goofy tweet tale to share with you.

Champion tweeter @erinscafe decided to go on the Covered California exchange back in December to get insurance coverage —adding herself on her husband’s plan was too pricey. She hashtagged the adventure, #obamacarewitherin

Several hours (and many tweets) later , Erin was a little less happy, looking at Silver and Gold plans from a few different insurers. The website, though, didn’t give her all the info she needed.

There was some confusion about what all the money went to.

Watching that was too much for me to bear in a personal finance capacity, so I stepped in. I’m not taking a policy position on the ACA, that’s not my job. But I can help someone save money!

We figured out — eventually —that Erin could save $600 a year if she bought the Silver plan instead of the Gold. She’d pay lower monthly premiums, but have a higher deductible. Still, Erin is young and healthy, and (fingers crossed) hopes to avoid having to shoulder any big out-of-pocket costs.

So far, she says she likes her plan.

About the author

Lizzie O'Leary is the new host of Marketplace Weekend.

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