The term ‘Obamacare’ has become a popular reference to several aspects of the Obama administration’s health care reform. It is most accurately used when referencing the actual laws and new stipulations that the Affordable Care Act (PPACA) places on health insurance plans. However, I feel it is more commonly used to reference any kind of low-cost, guaranteed issue, health insurance plan – and this can cause a lot of confusion.
The most important thing to understand about health care reform is that Obamacare is only a law. Obamacare is not the actual health insurance; it is a law that governs how the health insurance is distributed. Health insurance policies are still administered through the companies that we all know so well – Humana, United HealthCare, Blue Cross Blue Shield – and countless smaller companies. These companies offer plans that are ‘on’ and ‘off’ of the Health Insurance Marketplace. The Health Insurance Marketplace, or simply The Exchange, is the government-created website for buying health insurance. Often times, the same exact plans on the Marketplace can be found directly on the insurance carrier’s website. Most companies only offer a small selection of their plans on the Marketplace and some health insurance companies do not offer any plans on the Marketplace. Also, a few states have their own marketplace.
To avoid getting a tax penalty it does not matter where you buy your insurance – either on the Marketplace or directly through one of the insurance companies – so long as the health insurance is purchased before the deadline. If you are enrolling during ‘Open Enrollment’ then your deadline is January 31st; if you qualify for a special enrollment then your deadline is sixty days after your qualifying event.
By first understating what Obamacare is – a ‘nickname’ for the Affordable Care Act – it will be much easier to shop for health insurance. Insurance is a confusing subject and health care reform has not made it any easier to comprehend.
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