Can Obamacare save you money on health insurance?

Doctor taking pulse of woman patient

It's time to put politics aside and start figuring out whether the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare as it's frequently called, can save you some money.

The online health insurance exchanges that will allow everyone to comparison shop for individual and family coverage are scheduled to open Oct. 1, and there are really only two things you need to know to start using them.

The first is whether you're going to qualify for any government help with your premiums.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 48% of Americans who buy insurance are going to be eligible for subsidies and will receive an average of $5,548, which would cover 66% of the cost.

If you make up to 400% of the poverty line, you're eligible for something. That's up to $45,960 for an individual and $94,200 for a family of four.

Those making less than 250% of the poverty line are also eligible for extra subsidies to cover out-of-pocket costs like deductibles and co-pays.

To see how much government help you'll be eligible for, take a look at Kaiser's subsidy calculator.

You'll receive the subsidy when you file your taxes, having it deducted from what you owe or added to your refund.

Even if you get insurance through your employer, you'll want to check out what insurance is being offered on the exchange for where you live.

You could spend less and get more by purchasing health care coverage through an exchange, especially if your plan at work has above-average premiums or imposes hefty out-of-pocket charges.

Annual premiums for employer-sponsored family health coverage reached $16,351 this year, up 4% from 2012, with workers paying an average of $4,565 toward the cost of their coverage, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation/Health Research & Educational Trust 2013 Employer Health Benefits Survey.

The second thing you'll need to know is the type of plan that's best for you, which depends on how healthy you are and how often you see the doctor.

Each insurance exchange will offer four levels of policies: bronze, silver, gold and platinum.

If you're relatively healthy and rarely see a doctor, a bronze or silver plan would most likely be the best bets for you. They have lower premiums but higher out-of-pocket costs when you actually do need to go.

If you see the doctor often, you'll want a gold or platinum plan, where you pay higher premiums but less out-of-pocket money every time you see your doctor.

Some states, including New York, California and Colorado, have released what insurance companies on their exchanges will charge, but many are waiting until Oct. 1 to do that.

To see what information is available so far, go to HealthCare.gov. You can also sign up for alerts for when more info becomes available.

Serious illness or injury is one of the three setbacks that can destroy a family's finances (job loss and divorce are the other two).

Medical costs can drain savings and retirement accounts and leave you at the mercy of hospitals and doctors, which are surprisingly aggressive bill collectors.

If the Affordable Care Act can provide better insurance coverage at a lower cost, you've got to take advantage of that.