If you use the health insurance marketplace, you can compare plans and shop with confidence that all the plans displayed have been certified as meeting a minimum standard for coverage and quality, and will qualify as “minimum essential coverage” to avoid the tax penalty. If you shop for a plan outside the health insurance marketplace, you will need to do your own research to determine whether the plan qualifies as “minimum essential coverage” and provides the kind of financial protection and access to providers that is right for you and your family.
Second, premium tax credits and cost-sharing reductions to help lower the cost of coverage are only available through plans purchased in a health insurance marketplace. In addition, even if you are not currently eligible for premium tax credits, if you have a change in household income that may make you eligible for premium tax credits and cost-sharing reductions later in the year, you can only enroll in the subsidies outside the annual open enrollment period if you already have coverage through a health insurance marketplace. (26 U.S.C. § 5000A; 45 C.F.R. § 155.420).