With the new health care laws in place, everyone’s talking about the role of the Exchange. But what is it?

Exchanges will be a sort of mall for health plans. The Exchange will offer plans, certify plans that participate, and provide information to help consumers better understand options.

Starting in 2014, Exchanges will serve individuals buying health insurance on their own as well as small businesses with up to 100 employees.

Each state is expected to start its own Exchanges, which can be run by a government agency or a nonprofit organization. Each Exchange can only serve one geographical area, but they can work together to form regional entities.

Also in 2014, the Exchanges will run a Small Business Health Options Program — known as SHOP — that will offer small businesses and employees health insurance choices. According to Healthcare.gov, through SHOP employers can offer “Qualified Health Plans” (QHPs) and employees can choose plans that fit their needs.

SHOP should lower the burden of employee enrollment in small group plans and give small businesses cost advantages that larger businesses get now. For more information about Exchanges, visit Kaiser’s Health Reform Source. On the government's website you can also view a map showing where your state is in the Exchange process. —Stacey Freed, senior editor, REMODELING.