What do you need to know about the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, the health-reform law or the "federal health-careoverhaul"? It's big, it's far-reaching and it will change many things about the way you get health care.
Here are 15 things to know about the new law:
1. Next year, you must have health insurance, one way or another, or pay a penalty. There are exceptions, but they won't apply to most people.
2. Very likely, you already have insurance, so don't panic.If you are covered by an employer-sponsored plan, Medicare or Medicaid, military or veterans’ programs, an individual plan or other group plans, you're golden. If it's very skimpy or unaffordable, you can buy on the state's exchange marketplace, where you might get financial help.
3. If you have an individual plan, you're considered covered, but your plan is likely going to change, and you'll have to pick a new one.
4. Insurers can no longer reject you or charge you more because you have a health condition.
5. Your kids can be on your policy until they're 26.
6. You can't sign up for insurance coverage all year long.You'll be able to sign up only during specified open-enrollment periods. This year, a special six-month period lasts from Oct.1 to the end of March 2014.
7. There is a new way to compare and sign up for individual insurance.
These insurance-exchange marketplaces will appear Oct. 1, a one-stop shopping site that will take care of a lot of messy details for you.
8. You can still get the help of a certified & licensed insurance agent to help you make decisions in the online marketplace, free of charge.
9. The exchange websites will do some whiz-bang stuff behind the curtain. You'll be able to find out, for example, if your income qualifies you for free or lower-cost insurance.
10. The exchange websites aren’t the only way. You'll still be able to buy individual insurance through a broker, or through the insurer the same way you signed up before.
11. If you work for a big, self-insured company, you won't see many changes. At least not right away.
12. Expect new arrangements between insurers and doctors and hospitals. In general, they may lead to better coordination of care, but you may also see fewer choices of doctors, clinics and hospitals.
13. You might want to call way ahead of time to make that doctor's appointment. If it turns out that more people are insured, there justmight be a few more patients in the waiting room.
14. Don't expect costs to go down soon. Once most people are in the pool, expect some slow ratcheting down of costs as businesses, insurers and health systems find ways to reward care that works and discourage care that doesn't.
15. Businesses aren't required to insure workers this year.The federal government in July delayed the mandate for business coverage for a year. But in 2015, employers of more than the equivalent of 50 full-timeworkers will have to insure or pay a penalty.