After years of debate, legislation and an official endorsement from the Supreme Court, the Affordable Care Act is being implemented. Yet many students may not understand the complicated health-care law commonly known as “Obamacare.”
What Is It?
By expanding public and private insurance coverage, The Affordable Care Act was designed to (1) increase the quality and affordability of health insurance and (2) decrease the number of uninsured people. These measures also aim to reduce the costs of healthcare for both individuals and the government.
The law provides government financial help (subsidies) for those who qualify, along with other measures that work to expand the number of people who have health insurance. It also creates new rules that insurers must follow, including covering people with pre-existing conditions and charging the same rates regardless of gender.
To get coverage under the Affordable Care Act, people will access a series of state exchanges that the federal and state governments have created across the country. These exchanges allow citizens to shop for and purchase health insurance.
The law does not impact people who receive health coverage from their employers. Rather, it was written specifically for Americans who are currently uninsured or who cannot afford the type of coverage they need.
Those purchasing new insurance plans via the exchanges can enroll through March 31, 2014. Most plans will take effect as early as January 1, 2014.
How Is It Different From Government-Run Healthcare in Other Countries?
It is well documented that many countries, such as England and Canada, provide health care to their citizens. The Affordable Care Act does not mimic any of these countries’ health care systems any more than the old U.S. system did.
For example, the Canadian government sponsors health insurance for all citizens. That coverage is provided by, and funded by, the government. In the U.S., only some citizens receive government-run, government-funded health coverage (via Medicaid). While the Affordable Care Act will increase the number of people using government-provided insurance, the law’s primary function is giving more Americans access to private health care. The law therefore makes it easier and more affordable for them to purchase their insurance from private companies.
Often the term “universal healthcare” is used to describe the government-run and government-funded healthcare systems of other countries. (Beyond paying their taxes, citizens do not need to pay anything additional to receive healthcare. In that sense, it is “free.”) In the United States, the Affordable Care Act shares some of the motivations of universal healthcare, but the law only guarantees availability of healthcare for all—citizens must enroll to receive the coverage and pay something for it, even if that cost is reduced by government financial assistance.
What Are the Political Objections to the Law?
Because the law requires everyone to have health insurance, opponents claim it represents an overreach by the federal government. There is also strong resentment among Republicans for the way in which the law was passed. With Democrats in control of both the Senate and the House of Representatives at the time, the Affordable Care Act was passed with little to no involvement of Republicans. This combination of ideological differences and personal resentment regarding the law has led Republicans (who in 2013 control the House) to attempt to nullify it.
Student Discussion Questions:
Links updated 3/7/2017