What you need to know about the health-care exchanges

Michelle Singletary
Columnist September 6, 2013

He had me at the dedication.

Don Silver, a personal finance author, has written an e-book to help explain the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare.

Michelle Singletary writes the nationally syndicated personal finance column, “The Color of Money.” View Archive

“This book is dedicated to both the tens of thousands of government workers who either participated in creating the 20,000 pages of law and regulations of Obamacare or will be involved in implementing and enforcing the law as well as the millions of individuals and families in the United States who will be part of this social experiment,” Silver writes.

Next month, the health-care exchanges will open, and finally, we will begin to see the impact of the Affordable Care Act. But so much fighting has occurred around the law that what it says and what it sets out to accomplish are being lost in the debates.

There’s an old joke that goes, “How do you eat an elephant?”

The answer: “One bite at a time.”

Although the Affordable Care Act is no joke, you’ll have to digest it little by little. That’s what Silver has done in “The Best ObamaCare Guide: For You, Your Family and Your Business” (Adams-Hall Publishing, $7.99). The book is the Color of Money Book Club selection for this month.

Here’s what this book is not about: politics.

“This is not a book about public policy,” Silver says. He keeps his commentary politically neutral, which is refreshing.

“There are benefits in Obamacare and there are dangers, too,” he says. “You need to know what they are, where to look for them and how to deal with them.”

Silver can’t cover everything or address every nuance in a law this expansive. The typical disclaimer on such personal finance books is usually a paragraph or two. Silver’s disclaimer is about two pages long.

This book is a guide for what you’ll need to know before open enrollment for the health-care exchanges starts. Think of it as CliffsNotes for Obamacare. When it comes to your individual situation, Silver encourages you, as do I, to consult with a professional such as an insurance agent or the folks working in your state’s insurance marketplace.

The book is divided into four parts — “Obamacare Essentials”; “Individual and Family Essentials”; “Employer/Employee Essentials”; and, finally, a section that deals with Medicare, Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, doctors, drugs and dental issues.

One thing I wanted to know is why the book is only available electronically.

“The main reason is that I wanted the book to cover all of the regulations issued through Aug. 31 and still be available for consumers and business owners before the Oct. 1 enrollment start date,” Silver told me. “A quick-enough turnaround would not be possible with a print edition.”

True enough. Much of how Obamacare will be implemented is being handled in the form of regulations. “Since regulations keep being issued, understanding Obamacare is a moving target,” Silver writes. To that end, he encourages readers who want updates to send an e-mail to updates@TheBestObamaCareGuide.com.

You can buy the book on Amazon, and you don’t need a tablet such as a Kindle. When you order, you can choose how you want to download the book. You can get it on your personal computer, Mac, iPad (or other tablet), or iPhone, Android or Windows phone.

Try to take in too much information at one time about Obamacare, and you will probably get dizzy. Nonetheless, try you must. Young people in particular need to pay attention. You may think you can wait, but trust me, health care matters. If you’re trying to figure out what to do about your health care and whether you can afford it with or without federal subsidies, the information in this book is yet another tool to guide you to that answer.

The price for the e-book is about what you would pay for a best-selling e-book, but it’s worth having the information in a format that you can easily carry around. Look, I know this isn’t a fun read. But read this book, and you’ll have a better understanding of how to navigate through some pretty big changes coming to the health-care arena. Silver’s bottom line is: What you don’t know can cost you.

I’ll be hosting a live online discussion about “The Best Obamacare Guide” at noon Eastern on Sept. 26 at washingtonpost.com/discussions. Silver will join me to answer your questions. Every month, I randomly select readers to receive copies of the featured book, which in this case were donated by the author. For a chance to win an electronic copy of this month’s selection, send an e-mail to colorofmoney@washpost.com with your name and address.

Readers may write to Michelle Singletary at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 or singletarym@washpost.com. Personal responses may not be possible, and comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer’s name, unless otherwise requested. To read previous Color of Money columns, go to postbusiness.com.

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