What Is the Affordable Care Act?

In 2010, Congress passed the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The ACA has changed the way insurance and healthcare operate. The ACA is designed to give everyone access to quality, affordable healthcare, even people with preexisting conditions. The Supreme Court upheld the law in 2012.

The law covers many specifics on healthcare, including who is covered, what coverage individuals should receive from insurance companies and federal programs, and how much individuals should pay. Some key facts about the law are:

  • An online marketplace is set up that offers a variety of options. It’s where people can shop for plans and compare prices.
  • Insurance companies cannot drop or deny individuals healthcare because of preexisting conditions.
  • Individuals can appeal decisions when insurance companies deny coverage for procedures or care.
  • Businesses and individuals who choose a plan get a tax discount.
  • Young adults can stay on their parents insurance until age 26.
  • Insurance companies cannot discriminate against individuals based on gender.

Under the ACA, individuals who don’t enroll in a plan will pay an annual penalty on their taxes. Each year has a specific enrollment period. In some cases, if you don’t enroll on time, you could be left without health insurance at a time when you may need it.

What Are the Key Dates for 2016?

If you need to enroll in insurance, there are a few key dates you need to remember.

  • November 1, 2015 is when open enrollment begins. This means that on November 1st, you can enroll in a plan in the marketplace, where prices for insurance are competitive. Before this date, you can shop for plans and get an idea of what you need by visiting Healthcare.gov.
  • January 1, 2016 is the first day coverage begins. This means if you sign up for a plan by December 31, 2015, you will have insurance on January 1, 2016.
  • January 31, 2016 is the last day to enroll in a plan in the marketplace. If you don’t apply by this day, you won’t be covered for 2016. 

If you don’t have some form of coverage for healthcare through work, another government program, or a spouse, you will have to pay a fine.

Can I Enroll for Care in 2015?

The deadline to enroll for 2015 was February 15, 2015. However, you may still be able to enroll if you’ve experienced certain situations. If you have had a major life event, such as marriage, divorce, birth, or loss of coverage, you can still enroll. The Healthcare.gov website has a tool you can use to see if you qualify for these special enrollment categories.

If you’re in a low-income bracket, you may qualify for insurance through a government program, such as Medicaid, Medicare, or CHIP. Medicaid and CHIP are programs that are free or very affordable for families, children, pregnant women, people over 65, or people with disabilities. Medicare is a program for seniors (people over 65). These programs have open enrollment year round, so you can apply at any time. If you need coverage for 2015 and you aren’t sure if you qualify, visit Healthcare.gov or call your state Medicaid program to see if you can apply. 

What Else Should I Know?

Millions of Americans are without healthcare, but thanks to the new law, there’s a marketplace where you can compare premiums, deductibles, and plan options. Make sure you plan ahead so you can apply in time, and make sure you understand when your healthcare plan begins. If you don’t apply in time or have a major life event, you may qualify even if you miss the deadline.