Once you're on healthcare.gov, click on the link for "Get Insurance." You want to do this first so you can see if you need to stay on healthcare.gov or go to a similar state-run site to apply for coverage, compare plans, and enroll once the marketplace is open.
If you don't want to go online or you don't have easy access to a computer, you can call for help figuring out how you are affected. The government has set up a call center with staff that speaks 150 languages. You can reach them 24 hours a day, seven days a week toll free at (800) 318-2596, and hearing impaired callers using TTY/TDD technology can dial (855) 889-4325 for assistance. Workers called Navigators are also being trained around the country to assist folks.
To encourage the uninsured to purchase essential coverage for themselves and their dependents, the government put in place a penalty for those who refuse to buy. The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation (www.kff.org) has a great graph to illustrate the requirement to buy insurance and the penalties. Search for: "The Requirement to Buy Coverage Under the Affordable Care Act." If you can afford coverage and still don't seek it, the fee starts at $95 for an individual up to $285 for a family or 1 percent of a family's income, depending on which is higher. The fee increases every year. By 2016 it rises to $695 per adult or 2.5 percent, again whichever is higher.
Here's the thing. If the government determines that your income is such that you can or should be able to pay for your own insurance and you don't fall under an exemption, you'll be responsible for 100 percent of any medical care you might need.
So how do you know if the mandate includes you? There are a number of ways to avoid paying a penalty, including if you have coverage through an employer, a veteran's plan, Medicare or Medicaid. If you don't fall into the various categories to avoid a fee, you can still request an exemption.