Doctor sitting in office with patient talking and smiling © Paul Bradbury, OJO Images, Getty Images

Starting in 2014, the federal government will require you to have health insurance. That's when the individual mandate goes into effect under the Affordable Care Act.

Upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in June, the mandate requires everyone (with a bunch of exceptions) to have health insurance, whether it's through an employer-sponsored plan, a government-funded health insurance program (such as Medicare or Medicaid) or a private individual policy.

Worried about where you'll find a health plan? Here's where to look in 2014:

State health insurance exchanges

The Affordable Care Act requires states to set up competitive health insurance marketplaces called exchanges. The federal government will set up the exchanges in states that don't set up their own.

The exchanges will offer websites where you can compare health insurance plans and prices and buy coverage online. You'll also be able to see whether you qualify for government-funded insurance programs or government subsidies to help you afford health insurance premiums.

"It's a pretty impressive platform to set up," says Dan Maynard, the president of Connecture, a Milwaukee area-based software company that's designing the online-sales systems for exchanges in Maryland and Minnesota.

The websites will include self-service tools to guide you through the process of enrolling in government programs, if you're eligible, or choosing a private health plan based on your needs.

In most cases, exchanges will include call centers, where you can phone for help in choosing and enrolling in a plan, Maynard says. All exchanges will work with so-called "navigators." These are groups and professionals in the community who can help you enroll in a health insurance plan through a state exchange. Insurance brokers, consumer advocates and nonprofit groups could serve as navigators, and some state exchanges might have community outreach centers.

"Each state is going to approach it a little differently," Maynard says.

Health insurance companies and brokers

An estimated 30 million Americans are uninsured now. That's a lot of folks to hit the insurance market all at once, especially as new regulations go into effect, such as premium subsidies for people who meet certain low- and moderate-income requirements.

"Not everybody speaks insurance-ese," says Carol Taylor, the director of compliance and government affairs at Beacon Benefit Consulting in Jacksonville and Orlando, Fla. "It's going to be very, very complex. Agents are still going to have a consultative role."

Even though consumers will be able to shop for themselves through the exchanges, many will want some personal help from an insurance agent to sort through the options, she says.

Aetna, one of the largest health insurers, remains committed to brokers and will offer incentive programs to build stronger relationships and develop new technology to make it easier for brokers to work with the carrier, says Barbara DeMaio, the head of individual business for Aetna.

Health insurance companies will also sell plans directly to consumers through their own websites and call centers.

DeMaio says Aetna expects most of its business will continue to come through brokers and directly to the company in 2014. Sales through state exchanges will grow as the new marketplaces get established.

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