The Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare or the ACA, is a law intended to reform the health care system and make health insurance more affordable. The law has gone into effect in stages. For example, a provision that requires insurance to fully cover preventive services (like cancer screenings) was implemented in 2010, while the part of the law that stops insurance companies from denying people health insurance because of pre-existing conditions takes effect in 2014.
Say you've already got health insurance. How does Affordable Care Act affect you? Well, there are a couple of ways:
If you already have health insurance, you don't need to do anything new or different, unless your insurance company says so. Be sure to read about the preventive services that are now fully covered by your plan, regardless of whether you have a deductible, co-insurance or co-pays.
If you buy the Student Health Insurance Plan (SHIP) through the University of Washington, you should expect to find very little changed. However, SHIP is subject to the same requirements as other health insurance policies, and therefore now fully covers preventive services like birth control and immunizations. You can read about your benefits under SHIP here.
Starting January 1, 2014, the Affordable Care Act will require everyone to purchase a health insurance plan, just like the government requires people who own a car to buy car insurance. Fortunately, if you're a typical college student without much income, there are subsidies available to lower the cost of private insurance. If you are low-income, you might be eligible for public insurance, also known as Medicaid, for which you would not need to pay.
NOTE: For your medical services received at Hall Health Center (and other parts of UW Medicine), you would need to sign up for BridgeSpan Regence Blue Shield or Molina Healthcare.
If you are an uninsured resident of Washington State, you may have two options:
Curious as to how much you might be looking at paying for your health insurance? Here's a special calculator that estimates your monthly payment for health insurance (though keep in mind that you might be eligible for Medicaid if you earn less than 138% of the Federal Poverty Level).
Depending on where you're from, your home state may or may not have its own health insurance exchange (a website set up to facilitate finding and purchasing a health insurance plan). You can use the federal government's Health Insurance Marketplace to get routed to your state's exchange. If your state does not operate an exchange, you can use the federal government's version to buy your plan.
Similarly, your state may not have opted to expand Medicaid eligibility. Read more here about the Medicaid expansion.
There are other elements of the Affordable Care Act that may affect you:
Various Seattle Public Library branches will be hosting Affordable Care Act enrollment help sessions starting October of 2013.
Check out this cartoon-style infographic on what the Affordable Care Act means for young people.
The federal government's HealthCare.gov website offers lots of resources to help you make sense of the Affordable Care Act.
Washington State's Health Plan Finder is where you'll purchase health insurance if you need to buy an individual (i.e., not employer- or parent-sponsored) plan and are a Washington resident.
If you're not a Washington State resident, the federal government's Health Insurance Marketplace can help you purchase a plan.