Starting January 1, just about everyone in the U.S. will be required to have health insurance. 

It's one of the main provisions of the Affordable Care Act. Because many people are confused about how the new health law affects them, Consumer Reports designed a free online tool to help.

Consumers can log on to www.healthlawhelper.org and answer some basic questions about age, the number of people in the family and income.  The tool will then generate some quick results.

"You'll learn what options you have to help you comply with the law," said Consumer Reports' Nancy Metcalf. "And, you'll get information about the next steps to take."

Nearly one in five Americans buys individual health insurance or is completely uninsured. Under the new health care law, they'll have an entirely new option for choosing and purchasing insurance.

Beginning Tuesday, each state will have a kind of virtual store or marketplace where people can compare plans and learn whether they qualify for financial assistance.  Texas is not operating its own marketplace, so it will be facilitated by the federal government.  The marketplace will be open Oct. 1 at www.healthcare.gov.  Consumers will have through March 2014 to purchase coverage through the marketplace. 

"If  your current plan is really expensive or excludes a lot of services, you may find you qualify for a better plan at a lower cost on your state's marketplace," Metcalf said.

Not everyone needs to shop for new insurance.

Most Americans already have insurance, either through  an employer or government program like Medicaid and Medicare.

"They probably won't have to do anything, but it never hurts to check," Metcalf said.