Residents in the country illegally are not eligible for federal subsidies in the government-run exchanges like Covered California. There are other county and private programs that may assist people with their medical bills.

Yes, the benefits are the same in each metal tier, such as platinum. That makes it much easier for an apples-to-apples comparison among health plans.

One of the biggest factors driving the difference in price then is the network of doctors and hospitals the insurers are offering for that policy. Some may be a more limited HMO plan. Others may be a PPO plan with greater choice of physicians and specialists.

Many health plans have restricted their provider networks in the exchange to help hold down rates, so consumers should ask about that before signing up.

The IRS penalties for not having health insurance start relatively small in 2014 at $95 per adult or 1% of income, whichever is greater. They increase over time. In 2016, they reach $695 or 2.5% of income.


Full coverage: Obamacare rolls out

Demand for Obamacare strong in California

Examining your health insurance options under Obamacare