One of the biggest victories in last night’s election went to President Obama’s landmark health reform law. Now that the Supreme Court has upheld the vast majority of the law and the president has been reelected, Obamacare is here to stay — and the upcoming months and years will see a flurry of major changes to the U.S. health care system aimed at protecting American consumers.
Although certain Obamacare measures — such as allowing young adults to remain on their parents’ insurance until the age of 26 and requiring insurance companies to use 80 percent of their premiums for actual health care rather than their own profits — have already been implemented, the bulk of the law will go into effect over the next two years. Here’s what Americans can expect to see from Obamacare in the near future, and what it means for their health and financial security:
1) Statewide health insurance exchanges. States will soon decide whether to institute their own insurance exchanges, an exchange operated jointly with the federal government, or one run entirely by the federal government. And in 2014, those exchanges will allow individual Americans, small businesses, and eventually large businesses to purchase insurance on large marketplaces where they can leverage their purchasing power to get more affordable coverage. Plans under these exchanges must meet federal benchmarks across ten essential benefit categories, including maternal care and mental health services, helping to provide Americans with affordable insurance options that actually meet their medical needs. Members of Congress must also purchase their insurance plans from these exchanges starting in 2014.
2) An end to insurance company discrimination against Americans with pre-existing conditions. While Obamacare has already barred insurance companies from denying insurance to children with pre-existing conditions, this highly popular consumer protection will be extended to all Americans by January 2014. This means that Americans suffering from a host of genetic and chronic ailments that are completely beyond their control will no longer be relegated to expensive and inefficient high-risk pools, or be forced to forego critically needed health coverage entirely.
3) Prohibitions on lifetime and annual benefit caps. Also beginning in 2014, insurers will be completely prohibited from imposing lifetime and annual benefit caps on Americans. The provision will give much-needed peace of mind to Americans who require constant or expensive medical care due to a critical or ongoing health condition. During this year’s Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, speaker Stacy Lihn spoke movingly about how her young daughter — who suffers from a congenital heart defect — would have gone through half her lifetime benefit cap by the time she was six-months-old if it were not for Obamacare protections. Soon, all Americans will share in that potentially life-saving security.
4) Increased access to affordable contraception. Obamacare’s contraception mandate requiring employer-based insurance plans to cover contraception without a co-pay — a provision that studies have shown to benefit low-income women and reduce abortion rates — went into effect this past August. But the health law granted religious institutions some extra time to prepare for the birth control mandate. That time runs out in August 2013, when religious organizations will start implementing this aspect of the law through a workaround that shifts the cost of birth control services onto insurance companies.
5) Employer incentives for offering workers health care benefits. A little more than a year from now, Obamacare will require all employers with 50 or more full-time employees to provide workers with health benefits or risk paying a $2,000 per employee fine. Although 70 percent of Americans receive employer-sponsored health insurance, companies have been steadily shifting the cost of care onto their employees. Studies have shown that Obamacare’s employer mandates will actually lower health spending for small businesses and only modestly increase large companies’ health care costs, all while substantially helping low-wage and working Americans receive the affordable health coverage they need.
These are only some of the provisions that will eventually be in place under Obamacare. In order to actually deliver on the promise of affordable, quality coverage for all Americans, lawmakers on both the state and federal level must quickly begin laying the groundwork for Obamacare’s implementation. With last night’s affirmation of President Obama’s reform policies, Americans will soon experience first-hand the numerous landmark protections and benefits of Obamacare that have only existed in abstract terms up until now.