If you’re unsure whether Obamacare is the law of the land, you’re not alone. An April 2013 Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that 42 percent of Americans don’t know that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act – the official name for Obamacare – is already impacting health care for millions of Americans.
Since there’s so much misinformation about Obamacare and different parts of the law are being rolled out at different times, look to the federal government for details on the law’s implementation, says Joanne Peters, national press secretary for health care for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “The best resource is Healthcare.gov,” Peters says, and individuals can sign up for email and text alerts to let them know when new parts of the law go into effect.
If you’re wondering what rights you currently have under the law, and what you’ll be able to do later, here are some key ways that the law impacts you today and an overview of what you can expect moving forward.
4 parts of Obamacare now in effect
Chances are you’re already feeling some of the effects of Obamacare. Certain provisions of the Affordable Care Act were put in place shortly after the bill was signed into law in 2010.
1. Children’s preexisting conditions are covered.
Those with preexisting conditions were among the first to see some relief through Obamacare. While insurers can currently deny a person health coverage because of a preexisting condition, Obamacare saw the creation in 2010 of a Preexisting Condition Insurance Plan, which gives coverage options to anyone who’s been uninsured for six months or more due to a preexisting condition. In September 2010, children under the age of 19 could no longer be denied health insurance coverage because of a preexisting condition.
2. Preventive care is covered.
The law also has provisions designed to keep Americans healthier through preventive medicine. All health insurance plans had to start offering such preventive services as mammograms and colonoscopies at no charge to the patient.
3. Young adults and seniors have more benefits.
Since September 2010, young adults haven’t had to worry about paying for health insurance if they didn’t have a job that provided it. Obamacare gave them the option to stay on their parents’ health insurance plans until age 26. Young adults aren’t the only ones benefiting from healthcare reform. Since 2011, senior Americans have been getting discounts of up to 50 percent on certain prescription drugs.
4. No more coverage lifetime limits.
You also don’t have to worry anymore about using up all of your insurance coverage. While insurers used to be able to put a cap on how much in medical bills they would pay on your behalf in your lifetime, Obamacare forbids them from imposing lifetime limits.
5 parts of Obamacare that are still to come
Next year, 2014, is the year that the biggest changes occur under Obamacare.
1. The individual mandate kicks in.
The individual mandate, which requires most Americans to have health insurance, goes into effect Jan. 1, 2014. If you don’t have insurance, you may have to pay a penalty equal to the greater of $95 per uninsured person or 1 percent of household income over the tax filing threshold. For example, if you made $50,000 and the tax threshold is $10,000, you’d pay 1 percent of the difference. One percent of $40,000 is a $400 penalty.
If your income is so low that you can’t afford health insurance or if a health insurance plan goes against your religious beliefs, you may not be assessed the penalty.
2. The health insurance marketplaces, or exchanges, open.
In preparation for 2014, consumers in October of 2013 will be able to buy health insurance from the Health Insurance Marketplace, a state- or federally-run system in which consumers will be able to purchase a policy at competitive rates. Consumers who already have health insurance that they are happy with will be able to keep their current plans. Those who get health insurance through their employers can continue to do so and most likely will since in many cases, their insurance is subsidized by their employers, says Robert Giordano, an independent agent who sells health insurance in New York and New Jersey.
3. Medicaid will be expanded.
Those who can’t afford to buy a health insurance policy may be able to get their health insurance coverage through Medicaid. Under Obamacare, more people will be able to qualify for Medicaid than before. Starting in 2014, Medicaid will cover Americans who earn less than 133 percent of the poverty level, which is approximately $29,000 for a family of four.
However, the Medicaid expansion is optional for the states. Some states, such as Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi,have said that they won’t expand access to Medicaid, and will use their current eligibility requirements to determine who qualifies for Medicaid. Those requirements vary by state. For example, this year in Mississippi, children up to the age of 19 could receive Medicaid coverage if their family income did not exceed 100 percent of the federal poverty level, which is approximately $23,550 for a family of four.
4. Tax credits will be available.
There will also be tax credits available in 2014 to help the middle class afford health insurance. Those who don’t qualify for Medicaid and whose income is below 400 percent of the poverty level (approximately $43,000 for an individual and $88,000 for a family of four) may qualify for tax credits.
5. All preexisting conditions will be covered.
If you have a preexisting condition that keeps you from getting health insurance, you’ll no longer have to go through the Preexisting Condition Insurance Plan. In 2014, all insurers will be prohibited by law from refusing coverage based on preexisting conditions.