On a recent episode of Jimmy Kimmel Live, interviewers asked regular people whether they favored Obamacare or the Affordable Care Act. Most favored the ACA.
Of course, Obamacare and the ACA are the same thing.
While the segment aimed to make people laugh, it illustrated a real problem. Even after controversy over the nation's new health care law helped bring about a government shutdown, many people still don't understand what the law does, or how it affects their lives.
There's no doubt that Obamacare is complex. But its aim is actually pretty simple: to create a system wherein health care is affordable and attainable, and nearly everyone has it. That's important because in 2012, the U.S. Census Bureau found that 15.4 percent of Americans — 48 million people — were uninsured.
Some of the ways Obamacare works are pretty simple and generally well-liked. For instance, Obamacare makes it illegal for a potential insurer to deny you coverage because of a pre-existing condition. It creates greater transparency for consumers, and sets standards for what insurance companies cover and how much plans should cost. It forbids companies from dropping insurance because you get sick. It allows kids to stay on their parents' insurance until they're 26.
Then there are the trickier and more controversial parts of the plan. For instance, it expands Medicaid (in states like Colorado that have opted in) so that more poor people are covered — with the federal government footing most of the bill. It forces most companies with more than 50 full-time employees to offer a health insurance plan or face a fine. And it creates an "individual mandate" — meaning that, in most cases, you either need to acquire health insurance, or pay a fine.
The mandate is the backbone of Obamacare, because it forces healthy, young people to buy insurance, which makes it possible for insurance companies to cover the old and the sick without losing money. Those who oppose Obamacare generally feel that it's wrong to force health insurance companies to cover people they don't want to, or to force people to buy a product. Those who favor Obamacare point out that everyone ends up using health care, and argue it's only fair that everyone chip into pay for it. In fact, they point out, everyone is already subsidizing the uninsured, because those people visit emergency rooms and don't pay their bills. Hospitals then write off that debt on their taxes, and raise the costs of treatments to balance their budgets.
Whatever side of the debate you fall on, Obamacare is a reality. So what happens now?
Well, if you already have health insurance through an employer, or through a government program like Medicaid or Medicare, the answer is: nothing, really. You will likely stay on your plan. If you're uninsured, however, or become uninsured, you'll need to map your next move.
That in mind, here's a look at the landscape.
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