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1 year ago
Your Crash Course on the Affordable Care Act

Happy birthday, ObamaCare! The Affordable Care Act turned three years old on Saturday. In honor of the occasion, Women's Health is covering the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in a three-part series this week. This initial installment explains how the ACA has altered health care so far and what changes are still in store—particularly since 57 percent of Americans say they still don't have enough information to understand how the ACA will affect them, according to a new poll by the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation. Here, some notable aspects of the ACA that have already gone into effect:

More people have health insurance: 3.1 million young adults who were previously uninsured have gained coverage now that they’re able to stay on their parent’s health plan until the age of 26. In addition, more than 107,000 Americans who were previously denied insurance because of pre-existing conditions now have coverage, thanks to the Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan.

Health insurance companies are being forced to clean up their act
: The Patient’s Bill of Rights, enacted in 2010, also created a rule requiring insurance companies to explain rate increases before they show up on your bill. As a result, the average premium increase for all rates in 2012 was 30 percent below what it was in 2010. Insurance companies also must follow the 80/20 rule now, which mandates that at least 80 percent of premiums must be used on heath care for customers (rather than administrative costs like executive salaries). The percentage is even higher (85 percent) for large group markets, and any insurance companies that don't meet the 80/20 rule are required to provide rebates to customers.

Many preventive services are now available for free: About 71 million Americans with private insurance plans received expanded coverage of preventive services in 2011 and 2012, according to a report just released by the federal government. That means that millions of people had access to free cancer screenings, flu shots, and cholesterol checks (see the full list of preventive services covered under the ACA). In addition, insurance plans are now covering more prevention-related services for women, such as well-woman visits, breastfeeding support and supplies, and gestational diabetes screening (see the ACA rules on expanding access to preventive services for women).

Even more changes are still in store: October 1 marks the beginning of open enrollment in the Health Insurance Marketplace, which will allow individuals and small businesses to compare a variety of health plans to ensure that everyone has access to affordable insurance. Then, in 2014, that coverage will go into effect: Middle- and low-income families will get tax credits to help them pay for the cost of coverage, while the Medicaid program will be expanded to cover more low-income Americans.

Additionally, new consumer protections will be added to ban discrimination due to pre-existing conditions or gender (right now, insurance companies can charge higher rates due to gender or health status). “Being a woman will no longer be a pre-existing condition,” says Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services.

Annual and lifetime limits on insurance coverage will also be prohibited, which will literally be a lifesaver to people with chronic health conditions, who currently have to worry about being cut off from vital medical care because they have exceeded their coverage limit.

That’s a lot to celebrate!

TELL US: What questions do you still have about the ACA and how to get the most out of it? Let us know in the comments, and then check back on Wednesday for answers in the second installment in this week’s ACA series.
photo: iStockphoto/Thinkstock

More from Women's Health:
How to Handle a Huge ER Bill
Birth Control is an Economic Issue
How Healthcare Reform Helps You

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