It's new. It's kind of complicated. It's often confusing.

And Tuesday is the big day when something called an "insurance exchange" opens in California and every other state because of the Affordable Care Act -- Obamacare.

We know. Your head's already hurting.

But listen up. We've put together a Top 10 list of things you should know about the new health care reform law. Use it as a primer. And check back for more stories to help you sort it all out.

1) First off, , the federal government shutdown will not stop Tuesday's launch of the insurance exchanges. The portion of the federal budget funding the new programs is untouchable.

2) Newsflash: The new insurance exchange, called Covered California, might not apply to you.

A reminder of what is to come this fall hangs on a bulletin board at the Concord call center in Concord, Calif., on Thursday, Sept. 26, 2013. On Oct. 1,
A reminder of what is to come this fall hangs on a bulletin board at the Concord call center in Concord, Calif., on Thursday, Sept. 26, 2013. On Oct. 1, the Concord call center will start enrolling people into the Affordable Care Act. Call center staff will be on hand on Oct. 1 to help callers with the 20-page form to fill out. (Susan Tripp Pollard/Bay Area News Group)

The insurance exchange is mostly for people who are uninsured, or self-insured and think they can get a better deal. If you already receive medical insurance from your employer or from a government program like Medicare, the VA or Medi-Cal, you don't have to do anything. You're already covered.

3) Then again: Some parts of Obamacare may have already affected you or people you may know. After the Affordable Care Act was passed in March 2010, a number of early provisions went into effect. Already, insurance companies can't deny coverage to anyone 19 or younger for pre-existing health conditions like asthma, diabetes or cancer. Parents can keep their children on their policies until they turn 26. There's also no lifetime limit on what insurance companies will pay if someone gets really sick. And starting Jan. 1, adults' policies cannot be denied or canceled for any reason.


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4) The exchange isn't as mysterious as you think. It's basically an online health insurance marketplace where people can compare and choose a health plan that works best for their needs and their budget. Go to www.coveredca.com and hit the "Shop Now" button. Then hit the "Get Started" tab, and an online calculator will pop up. You'll be asked to insert information about your household size, age of each adult in your household, income and ZIP code to see all the plans available in your area. You'll also find out if you'll be eligible for subsidies on your monthly premiums or lower out-of-pocket costs -- and whether you qualify for free or low-cost coverage through Medi-Cal, a program for the poor that is being expanded.

5) There's no need to rush to sign up. In fact, it's probably not a good idea. You'll have until Dec. 15 to buy health insurance through the exchange if you want the coverage to start on Jan. 1, when the new Obamacare policies will take effect. That gives everyone 21/2 months to study their options carefully, either on their own or with the help of certified enrollment counselors and certified insurance agents in your area. Enrollment will continue until March 31.

The next open-enrollment period begins in October 2014 for coverage in 2015.

6) The exchange is primarily aimed at getting uninsured folks health coverage. But all California residents who are U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents are free to buy insurance in the new marketplace. Only those with low and moderate-incomes will get tax credits or help with out-of-pocket costs. And because most people who are insured through their jobs can't get subsidies, it's really not going to make sense for those folks to buy insurance through the exchange. But if you really are unhappy with your health care insurance at work, call 800-300-1506 and ask to be put in touch with a Covered California certified enrollment counselor or certified insurance agent in your area to find out your options.

7) Whether you buy your insurance from the exchange or not, starting Jan. 1 all new health insurance policies have to cover 10 essential benefits for everyone. That includes preventive and emergency care, hospitalization, drug prescriptions and more.

8) If you don't have insurance now, you'll have to play or pay. Anyone who doesn't have medical insurance by March 31 will have to pay a $95 penalty, or 1 percent of their annual income, whichever is greater. And the fee will rise by 2016, when the penalty will be 2.5 percent of your annual income or $695. This is one of the biggest gripes among critics who say the government shouldn't be able to force them to buy insurance. But supporters say, when everyone participates, especially healthy young people, health-care costs go down, especially for older and chronically ill people who need coverage the most.

9) As with any law, there are exceptions. You're off the hook for paying a penalty if the lowest-price coverage available to you would cost more than 8 percent of your household's adjusted gross income. You're also exempted if your income is below the threshold required for filing taxes (in 2012, $9,750 for a single person and $27,100 for a married couple with two children). You're exempt (and cannot receive benefits from the law) if you are an illegal immigrant. Also exempt are people who are in prison or belong to a federally recognized Native American tribe. You can also ask for an exemption if you're a member of a recognized religious sect with religious objections to insurance, including Social Security and Medicare. For more information, go to www.healthcare.gov/exemptions.

10) Be careful about phony websites. There are a lot of scams and fraudulent websites out there. If you get a cold call from someone wanting to sell you an "Obamacare card" (there's no such thing) or asks for personal information so they can "help" you get a break on insurance, hang up! There is only one website for Covered California: www.coveredca.com. The insurance exchange's number is 800-300-1506.