Capitol reporter Mary Wilson covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.
Federal health care exchanges go live Tuesday, giving people without insurance a chance to sign up for coverage that could begin in January.
Health advocates are already hailing greater access to care - insurance plans offered in the exchange will have to cover bases like preventive medicine.
For Lynn Keltz, director of the Pennsylvania Mental Health Consumers Association, it means she should be able to find plans providing mental health care, something that hasn't been true for the plan she's found on the private market.
"I have hospitalization for physical health care, but I can't get the therapy if my depression gets the better of me. I can get the meds, but I can't get therapy," Keltz said. "So I will be one of the first people to try this out."
Sharon Ward, with the left-leaning Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, is advising consumers to brace for hiccups in the early days of the exchange.
"This many people finally having the ability to access health insurance might create a bit of demand," said Ward. "It'll take a little bit of time, but that's why the exchange is open three full months before the first day when health coverage will be available."
Advocates are eager to see which plans are being offered in the exchange and how much they'll cost.
"That's one of the things that they have kept not public until October 1 because, obviously, the insurers submitted bids, those bids would be revealed," said Ray Landis, with AARP. The information hasn't been available in Pennsylvania, advocates say, because Governor Corbett declined to implement a state-run exchange.
The average individual plan in Pennsylvania's exchange is cheaper than the national average, according to information released recently by the federal government. 56 plans have been approved for the state's exchange.
Pennsylvanians who don't receive health care from their employer or a public program can shop for coverage that begins in January as long as they sign up by December 15.
The launch of the federally mandated exchange marks the latest part of the Affordable Care Act to be implemented. The federal health care law requires everyone to have insurance or pay a fine.
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