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Virginia's state-run health insurance marketplace is live for the first time

It's been a decade since former President Barack Obama signed the Affordable Care Act. And now, a Virginia-run market under the act is live for the first time.

This week is the start of open enrollment for the brand-new Virginia Health Benefit Exchange. That's the state-run marketplace of health insurance plans available through the Affordable Care Act, which has dramatically reduced the number of people without health insurance across the county. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra was in Virginia to celebrate the long-delayed launch.

"To me health insurance coverage is peace of mind. That's really what it is," Becerra said. "You don't have to panic when your kid breaks his leg and wonder how you are going to pay the bill. You don't have to panic if you find that you have cancer."

Republicans were in control of the General Assembly when Obamacare was created, and they initially resisted efforts to create a state-based marketplace. So, Virginia had to go with the federal marketplace. Now, Virginia has a new system run out of the State Corporation Commission.

"It's open enrollment now, and we encourage you even if you are in a current plan and you are happy with that plan; we still encourage you to go to the marketplace Virginia and check out the options," says Deepak Madala at the Virginia Poverty Law Center. "There's a lot of options in Virginia because of the Affordable Care Act."

The Open Enrollment period runs through January 15th.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria.