Explaining the Affordable Care Act

September 23, 2013

Health care reform is indeed a journey—not a destination. And, judging from all of the requests that our Center is getting to explain the Affordable Care Act, it is probably going to be a journey for a very long time (assuming, of course, that it doesn’t get “defunded”/ delayed/repealed or otherwise stopped in the next few couple of weeks!).

So, in this rush to the opening bell, I have spent a lot of time talking about health care reform. The point about this being the opening bell is important. Yes, open enrollment on the health insurance exchange (referred to as the Marketplace) will begin October 1, but it actually won’t affect as many people as some might think based on the hubbub about health reform. For many people, nothing will change October 1 because they will continue to get employer-sponsored coverage as they always have. Or, they will remain Medicare eligible and continue to get Medicare coverage as they always have. Or, they will continue to get their coverage through the VA or the existing Medicaid program as they always have. Or, they will be newly eligible for Medicaid (in Michigan) but that coverage won’t be available until sometime in late March or early April (for anyone who would be eligible for Medicaid, it is important to know that there will be no penalties if you don’t get health insurance coverage before Medicaid expands).

So, what really happens on October 1? Those who will be most immediately affected are those who buy health insurance coverage themselves and don’t get it through an employer. October 1 is the day you can start shopping on the Marketplace and learn what options are available to you. But you can take your time. Even if you wait to enroll in health insurance until early December, your coverage will still be effective on January 1. And, you can wait to shop in the Marketplace until the end of March with no penalties applied. So, October 1 is truly the start of this journey; it is by no means the destination itself.

Every health care reporter in the state is working on stories to help explain these changes. At CHRT, we are doing the same to help dispel as many myths as possible and help people understand how the law affects consumers, employers, providers and the state at large. For so many people, the Affordable Care Act will provide real and tangible benefits. But, there will be some who experience changes that are not as positive for them. And there will certainly be some unanticipated effects from a law and implementation as complex as this one. We want to help people become as informed as possible about these changes. If you want to hear more, you can listen to an interview that I did for Stateside with Cynthia Canty that tries to help consumers understand more about the law.

We have been busy producing so much information about the law—everything from how it looks from a consumer’s perspective to how the taxes work in the law—that we decided to put a special button on our website to that you can easily navigate the information about the ACA. You can see all the briefs we have produced so far here[CHRT’S HCR BUTTON]. And, there will be more to come soon!

There is no question that this law is not easy to understand—and, not easily captured in a sound bite. But, then again, our current health care system in America is also not easy to understand—just ask the foreign students who take the class I teach with my colleagues at the University of Michigan School of Public Health called “Health Insurance in America.” When our foreign students hear about how the current system works, they shake their heads and ask us to explain it again. Unfortunately, though there are many good things the ACA has already done and is likely to do in the future if given a chance, one thing it hasn’t done, is to make our system of health care financing in America easier to explain!