Maria Cardenas,

Maria Cardenas is hopeful about her new options for insurance, but says that unless she can find a reasonably priced plan, she may just have to pass. (Francine Orr, Los Angeles Times / December 6, 2013)

Burbank student Maria Cardenas, 26, has been without health insurance for the last four years, and it worries her.

"I'm really healthy and don't generally get sick, but there are occasions when it happens," she said. "I want to be able to go to the doctor when I need to and not worry that I can't."

Cardenas works as a chemistry tutor and sometimes as an on-call nanny while she gathers enough credits at Pierce College to apply for medical school. She pieces jobs together to make ends meet, and though she wants health insurance, she can't afford it. "Even a plan with low coverage was pretty expensive," she said.

Cardenas' story is like many heard at Enroll America, an organization started by Obama supporters who are working to maximize enrollment of the nation's uninsured in health plans.

"It's really about the affordability issue," spokesman Justin Nisly said. "I think for most people, if they can afford it, they want health insurance."

But for younger, uninsured consumers like Cardenas, there are other challenges. Many are newcomers to health insurance, its costs and ways to select a health plan that fits both their lifestyle and their budget.

For young adults who have yet to shop for their insurance options, experts offer some points to consider.

California's health exchange is open for business. Now is the time to explore your options under the state's Covered California exchange, pick a health plan and sign up.

For those interested in having health insurance in place at the start of 2014, there's a sign-up deadline of Dec. 23. But enrollment continues for three more months after that, ending March 31.

Don't be misled by reports that the healthcare website isn't working. The state's website at http://www.coveredca.com has been working since Oct. 1, and 31,000 Californians signed up in the first month. It is the federal website, HealthCare.gov, operating in 36 states, that had been having major problems and frustrating consumers interested in enrolling in a health plan.

Cardenas is among those who were unaware that California's exchange operates separately from HealthCare.gov. All the reports about the federal website's problems led her to believe that there was no point in trying to research her insurance options. "That's why I didn't look into it any further. From what I heard, it just wasn't available online," she said.

In the end, however, Cardenas says she will shop for insurance coverage. And she thinks her friends — most of whom are also uninsured — will too. "I think most of my friends are very responsible. It has been a very pressing concern for all of us."

Financial help is available. Cardenas is hopeful about her new options for insurance, but says that unless she can find a reasonably priced plan, she may just have to pass.

"I think right now $100 [a month] would be really borderline," she said. "My income is really low, so that's stretching it a little bit."

Most people under the age of 34 will qualify for a subsidy. Single adults earning up to $45,960 a year and families of four earning up to $94,200 are eligible for some level of subsidy.

Under the new law, an additional half a million Californians ages 19 to 29 are estimated to qualify for Medi-Cal, the state's health insurance policy for people with low incomes.

When young adults learn about government help paying for health coverage, enrolling for insurance becomes more appealing, Nisly said. "We've had good success when we're able to talk very specifically about the tax credits that are available."

Sort out your options. All health insurance plans sold through Covered California are defined by their "metal levels" — Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum. The major differences among them are the cost of the monthly premium and how much of a patient's medical expenses are covered.

Generally, the less you pay on a monthly basis for your plan, the more you'll pay each time you visit the doctor. The least comprehensive plans are Bronze and the most comprehensive are Platinum.

If you have a doctor you want to see or a hospital you want to use, make sure they participate in the plan you select. The same is true if you take prescribed drugs; you'll want to make sure they're included on the plan's list of approved medications.