The Affordable Care Act, colloquially known as Obamacare, got signed into law March 2010. The law basically seeks to make available affordable health services to Americans. It strives to do this by “increasing the quality and affordability of health insurances, lower the uninsured rate by expanding public and private insurance coverage and reduce the costs of healthcare for individuals and the government," according to its Wikipedia entry.
It mandates that every individual, by 2014, must have health insurance either gotten through a broker, a provider, an employer, or through the online health insurance marketplace.
The law, which can be found in its entirety on the congress’ website, easily can be broken down into the following things:
- Affordability: An ambivalent word and the crux of many discussions. Critics point out that the marketplace exactly isn’t affordable as people now have to pay twice or thrice their pre-Obamacare rates. Also, since the law isn’t standardized, rate varies by state. However, the Affordable Healthcare Act makes available subsidiaries, i.e. government will help pay for insurance, to those who qualify. Subsidies are only available to people who purchase coverage on their own at the Marketplace and not through an employer.
- Benefits: Everybody gets the same remuneration, regardless of sex and pre-existing condition. The law mandates that the cheapest insurance plan cover pre-existing conditions and essential health benefits like emergency services, hospitalization, prescription drugs, rehabilitation, chronic condition treatments like pain management, mental health and substance use disorder services etc. The rates of insurances denying payment for patients’ treatments drastically will be reduced. And if you already are insured, your protection benefit will increase. For example, young adults up to the age of 26 can stay under their parents’ insurance. Also, insurance companies have to spend a minimum of 80 percent of purchased premium on each consumer’s healthcare. If they don’t, they’re mandated to refund consumers.
- Fine: Individuals who do not have insurance by 2014, either personal or employer-based, will be fined an annual tax penalty of $95 or up to one percent of income over filling minimum. But the fine will increase in 2016 to $695 per person. There always is an exception to every rule. The law makes an exception of individuals who can show financial hardship – if the least expensive policy exceeds eight percent of one’s income –, is a member of a religious sect recognized by the IRS, or is a member of a Native American tribe etc. However, such individuals have to file for exemption.
- Time-frame: The Affordable Care Act implementation isn’t a sprint but a marathon. The marketplace remains open from Oct. 1 to March 31. Insurance plans bought through the marketplace will start on Jan. 1. Although the marketplace will be open till March 31, should you want to start using your insurance by January 1, the deadline to purchase a plan is December 14. If you buy insurance after January, your coverage will start the next month after.
- Marketplace: While you still can seek the expertise of private insurance agents, you are given an alternative: the online marketplace, also known as the exchange pool. According to the marketplace, people can get lower costs based on their income, compare their coverage options side-by-side and enroll with one application. Application can be done online, by mail, or in-person with help.
If your employer currently offers insurance or if you have one personally that counts as minimum essential coverage, you need not worry. However, if your current plan only covers for specific heath conditions, in detriment of the others, you should start considering switching.
However, I advise that you wait before utilizing the marketplace. It only just opened, still has kinks to sort out and you have a lot of time. Use your time wisely. Don’t just rush into a plan.