To make health insurance plans easier to compare, the Affordable Care Act groups plans into metal tiers named after metals to help you understand how much coverage they offer: Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Platinum. But don't go reaching for the Platinum Plans first, more isn't always better…
Each tier is based on its "actuarial value"—a fancy word for the percentage of health care costs your insurance pays on average, over the course of a year. If the actuarial value is 60 percent, you (the consumer) will only pay 40 percent of the total amount of health care (including all premiums, deductibles, coinsurance and copays).
You can use these metal tiers as a starting point to help you narrow down your search. For example, if you're a healthy individual who rarely gets sick or injured, you might want to focus your search on Bronze plans. Although they pay a smaller percentage of your health expenses, your total expenses might be too low to offset the higher premiums of a Platinum plan.
Depending on your income, you may qualify for subsidies differently depending on the plan type and income. If you are between 100% and 250% of the federal poverty level and choose only a Silver plan, you may qualify for additional tax subsidies to help reduce out-of-pocket costs like deductibles, copays, coinsurance and annual maximums in addition to the premium tax credits described here.