The time has finally come. The Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare, began on Tuesday with state-based health insurance regulated exchanges in which individuals between the ages of 19 and 64 and small businesses started purchasing private insurance plans.

For African-Americans, the law will address inequities and will increase access to quality, affordable health coverage, invest in prevention and wellness, and give individuals and families more control over their care. Beginning in 2014, ACA will provide 6.8 million uninsured African-Americans an opportunity to get affordable health insurance coverage.

Locally, the New York State of Health, the state’s official health plan marketplace, reported that nearly 2 million people went to its website in the first few hours warned people of possible glitches and delays. There are 16 insurance companies listed on the site, with premiums costing between $134 and $900.

“New York’s health benefits exchange will offer the type of real competition that helps drive down health insurance costs for consumers and businesses,” said Gov. Andrew Cuomo. “The opportunity to choose among affordable, quality health insurance options will mean improved health outcomes, stronger economic security and better peace of mind for New York families.”

Under the ACA, not signing up for the program and being uninsured could result in federal tax penalties. Officials from the New York State of Health said the online process is long and could take up to 45 minutes to complete.

“For years, the financial, physical or mental health of millions of Americans suffered because they couldn’t afford the care they or their family needed,” said U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. “But thanks to the health care law, all of that is changing. Today’s launch begins a new day when health care coverage will be more accessible and affordable than ever before.”

There are over 2.7 million uninsured and many underinsured in New York state. At full enrollment, nearly 1.1 million uninsured and underinsured New Yorkers will obtain health insurance through the New York State of Health: 615,000 individuals and 450,000 small business owners with 50 or fewer employees.

There are nearly 1.6 million uninsured people in the city, Westchester and Rockland counties, and many more are underinsured. At full enrollment, over 516,000 people will obtain health insurance through New York State of Health: 308,000 individuals and 208,000 small business members

“These plans and rates deliver on the promise that the exchange will offer quality health insurance coverage at a price that works for New Yorkers,” said Donna Frescatore, executive director of the New York Health Benefit Exchange. “We were pleased to see that there was much interest from health plans regarding participation in the exchange. Our partners at the New York State Department of Financial Services did a thorough job of negotiating affordable prices while ensuring that consumers will have access to the providers they need. Robust competition among health plans has resulted in meaningful choices and better options for consumers.”

Coverage begins as early as Jan. 1, 2014, for people enrolling by Dec. 15. Tuesday also marks the kickoff of outreach and enrollment activities in communities nationwide. Enrollment events will take place in a variety of local settings, including public libraries, churches, festivals, sports events and community meetings.

One event taking place in Harlem is being hosted by the Prince Hall Order of the Eastern Star Inc., State of New York Golden Gate Chapter #40 and Michelle Davis, health administrator for the U.S. Deptartment of Health and Human Services. It aims to educate people in the community about the ACA and how to get insured.

“We wanted to make sure we give the community valuable information to make an informed decision about health insurance. When ACA came around, we thought it was the true answer to some of our communities woes,” said Aloha Powell, co-chair of the health care initiative for the Golden Gate Chapter. “We wanted to be a part of that team to get this information out. There is such an imminent need for this information. Its about infusing the community with the correct information.”

The event will take place on Saturday, Oct. 5 from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the Prince Hall Grand Lodge at 454 W. 155th St.

Coverage offered through the marketplace includes a range of options for consumers to pick what best meets their needs, the needs of their family and their budget. With one marketplace application, a consumer will be able to see if they qualify for lower costs on health insurance based on income or free or low-cost coverage available through Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program. No matter what state a consumer lives in, they will be able to use the marketplace to apply for coverage, compare options and enroll.