Tolstoy’s War and Peace clocks in at 1,440 pages; Les Miserables, by Victor Hugo, is a veritable tome at 1,488. The late David Foster Wallace kept Infinite Jest just below 1,200 pages. Not enough for you? Try moving on to the 2,409 pages of the Affordable Care Act.
To be fair, legislative documents put very few words on a page—lots of double-spacing and large fonts, like a hastily assembled research paper—but it’s still a lot of industry-speak to wade through. Signed into law on March 23, 2010, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (also called the ACA or Obamacare, in the interest of saving syllables) aims to reform the health care industry. Changes have been implemented since its signing and will continue to roll out through 2022. But if it’s truly not your idea of a weekend read, I’m going to do my best to break down what it means for us and offer up a few resources to learn more.
First and foremost, the Affordable Care Act exists to provide access to quality, affordable health insurance for all Americans. Starting in 2014, most people will be required to have health insurance or face a penalty if they don’t. Already have private insurance, Medicare or Medicaid? You’re welcome to keep it; the law simply requires that those without health insurance obtain it.
Health insurance marketplaces
If you don’t have health insurance now, you’ll be required to obtain it by January 1, 2014. Next week (October 1) is the launch of health insurance marketplaces, new organizations set up to create organized, competitive markets for purchasing health insurance. In the marketplaces, you’ll find health plan choices as well as copious information to help you best understand your options. The federal government has trained navigators to help walk you through the decision process and offer suggestions and recommendations. Marketplaces are determined by each state, though the federal government will step in and establish marketplaces if a state does not set them up. New York has set up its own marketplace.
Preexisting conditions? You won’t be turned away.
2014 also introduces a ban on discrimination based on preexisting conditions. This requires all insurers to sell coverage to everyone who applies, regardless of their medical history or health status. Premiums may be different based on a number of factors (including age, weight and tobacco use), but no one will be turned away. If you choose not to buy insurance (agreeing to pay a penalty) and find yourself struck ill or having suffered an injury, you can purchase insurance immediately.
There’s ever more to learn about the benefits of the Affordable Care Act, but more highlights include:
- Those purchasing insurance from a marketplace are eligible for tax credits and subsidies if annual income is within 400 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL 2012: $11,070 individual/$23,050 family of four).
- While the law does not require employers to provide health benefits, it will impose penalties in some cases on larger employers who do not provide insurance. This pay-or-play rule will go into effect in 2015.
- Young adults can stay on their parents’ insurance plans as dependents until age 26.
- The law bars insurance companies from charging differently based on gender.
- The ACA provides bonus payments for primary care physicians in underserved areas and increases payments to rural health care providers.
- The law will give seniors access to cheaper prescriptions, free preventive care and will expand Medicaid.
You may already be feeling the effects of the Affordable Care Act, like if you’re a recent college grad still safe on her parents’ insurance, or a woman with free access to birth control. Though regulations will continue to roll out over a decade, the next few months will see the law’s backbone—accessible, affordable health care for all—put into action.
Want to know more? Explore the following: