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MINNEAPOLIS - The newMinnesota health insurance exchange, known as MNsure, will be offering 141 plans to individuals, families and small business owners throughout the state beginning October 1, 2013.

When KARE introduced our viewers to MNsurelast week we asked viewers to go to Facebook and post their questions about the exchange and the Affordable Care Act.

We received scores of queries, and we'll be answering them throughout the month of September.

How Affordable?

The top issue they've raised so far isabout the affordability of the plans sold through theMNsure exchange.

Jennifer Edwards asked, "How much is it going to cost? What is being considered affordable?"

Answer: The premiums begin at 90 dollars a month for a 25-year-old non-smoker. They go up from there depending on your age, what part of the state you live in, and whether you smoke.

The price also depends on whether you opt for bronze, silver, gold or platinum plan. The bronze plans have the lowest premiums with the highest deductibles, while platinum versions have highest premiums and lowest deductibles.

You can qualify for discounts if you make less than $46,000 per year as an individual, or less than $94,000 for a family of four. Essentially the less you earn, the higher the discount or premium assistance is.

Estimating your cost

MNsure has put dozens of different scenarios online at this rate calculator link, that provides the range of premiums and discounts, that vary based on region and age.

In some regions of the state five different insurance companies are offering plans, while in others only three companies are competing. That is one of the reasons that geography figures into the relative cost of the plans.

Residents of Wisconsin will be able to find similar information on the federal exchange athealthcare.gov starting in October, because that state does not have its own exchange.

But you won't know your true cost until you go online and log in October 1, pick a plan that matches your needs and then plug in your income information. Those discounts will be applied automatically to the premiums.

Some will find, once they check the exchange, that they qualify for public health plans with much lower premiums. If you earn less than $23,000 you can qualify for Minnesota Care, a program designed for lower income working people and financed by fees on providers.

If you make less than $15,000 you may qualify for Medical Assistance, which is what Minnesota calls Medicaid, the federally subsidized health plan.

Employer Plan Too Expensive

Viewer Lindsey Rivera wrote, "If my work offers health care, but I cannot afford it for me and my family, how is that going to work?"

Answer: This question goes to the heart of one of the gaps in the Affordable Care Act.

You can still buy an insurance plan through the exchange, even if you can get it at work. But there's catch: if your employer offers you affordable coverage, you won't be eligible for any discounts through MNsure.

What does Uncle Sam consider affordable when it comes to this particular rule?

Affordable employer coverage, for the purposes of the Affordable Care Act, is a plan for one person that costs less than 9.5 percent of your income.

An employer-based plan for a family may cost more than that and still be considered affordable, under this law.

Individual Mandate

Another big topic on our Facebook page involved the individual mandate which goes into effect January 1, 2014.

Viewer Manda Kouppola wrote, "If they discover someone does not have insurance, what will the consequences be?"

Heather Bogie Antoine wrote, "How is someone really going to know if someone doesn't carry health insurance?"

Answer: If you're not covered you'll pay a tax penalty in 2015 at the time you file your 2014 federal income tax return.

If you do have insurance, your employer and the insurance company will give you a document you can include in your tax return, as proof you were covered during 2014.

That penalty is equal to $95 or 1 percent of your annual income, whichever is highest, for each uninsured person in your household.

That penalty will be deducted from your refund if you have one due. And if you already owe taxes, it will be added to your tax payment due with your return.

Employers and insurance companies will also be required to submit your coverage information to the IRS, which will provide another layer of enforcement.

But the law doesn't call for civil fines or jail time for violators.

People who don't earn enough to file federal taxes won't have to worry about the tax penalty. Those who can't afford to buy the plans available to them can also be exempted.

Go to the KARE 11 News Facebook pageto submit your question, and we'll do our best to answer them.

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