Obamacare exchanges open: Facts, myths and tips

Misinformation about the Affordable Care Act – also called Obamacare – continues to flood every possible means of human communication. The far-right has spent every moment since 2009 filling people’s heads with lies and nonsense. (There are NO “death panels”!)

Only a minority of Americans — yet too many for any rational 21st century civilization — buy into the most extreme paranoid lies about Obamacare (for example, the claim that everyone will have to have a government tracking device inserted under their skin). But most Americans are confused about the new law, and/or they believe at least one myth — the most pervasive one being that it is a “government takeover of health care.” If you believe this, you are WRONG.

As the rollout of the health care exchanges began Tuesday, Oct. 1, and the GOP tea-party-run House of Representatives forced a shutdown of government because of the health care law, every media outlet is compiling its own information about what all this means for you. Some also have compiled top myth lists. The nonpartisan PolitiFact has a helpful “Top 16 myths about the health care law.”

Not to be outdone, peoplesworld.org offers its own “Facts, tips and myths about the Affordable Care Act.”

Fact: Private insurance companies, not the government, are still in the drivers’ seat regarding health care. Depending on your perspective you may be happy about this. However, people who advocate for what’s called a “single-payer” health care system, or “Medicare for all,” say they will continue to fight for such a plan. “Medicare for all” means anyone should be able to buy into the Medicare program, not just people 65 and older.

Tip: If you need health care, go through the official health care exchanges and educate yourself about the insurance plans available in your area and how much they will cost you. Healthcare.gov is the national website that can direct you to official state sites. In California, it’s called Covered California. In Illinois, it’s GetCoveredIllinois.gov. Prefer phone? You can call 1-800-318-2596, the national health insurance marketplace, to get answers to your questions. The Kaiser Family Foundation has a “subsidy calculator” to see if you qualify for assistance in paying for insurance, plus the website has a whole lot of other useful Affordable Care Act information.

Myth: This is the first time in American history that the government will fine you if you don’t buy into a health plan. FALSE. With Medicare Part D, the drug plan for seniors signed into law by Republican President George W. Bush, if a Medicare recipient doesn’t buy into the plan, she/he is fined. This is something no one talks about, says Forbes.com health care writer Bruce Jaspen, interviewed Tuesday on public radio.

Fact: If you need health care, you have from now until March 31, 2014, to sign up during open enrollment. In order to be covered by Jan. 1, 2014, you must buy insurance by Dec. 15. The 15th of January, February and March are the cutoff dates for coverage for the following month. So If you buy insurance on Jan. 15, 2014, you should expect to be covered starting Feb. 1, 2014. However if you buy insurance on Jan. 16, your coverage won’t kick in until March 1.

Tip: Avoid scams by using the official health insurance exchanges. Best bet is to go through healthcare.gov or call 1-800-318-2596 for information. If you get a call, email or house visit offering to sign you up for health care – it’s a scam. The government is not going out and signing you up.

Myth: Employers are cutting hours to avoid health care provisions under the new law. More hype than evidence. It is true that some employers are cutting hours, but there is no clear evidence that it is tied to the Affordable Care Act. The evidence is more anecdotal than statistical. However, part-time and temporary work has risen considerably, but that may be due more to employers making a bigger profit margin with such arrangements than to a health care law that covers millions of uninsured. Labor leaders have argued that their members are seeing a reduction in hours and one of the many weaknesses of the law is it “ignores part-time workers.”

Fact: Sections of the Affordable Care Act have been in effect before the Oct. 1 opening of health insurance exchanges. This includes children being able to stay on their parents’ plan until they are 26; the fact that no insurance company can ever deny a child coverage because of a pre-existing condition (same for adults starting in 2014); and the requirement that 80 percent of the premium costs have to go to health care – if it doesn’t, you get a rebate. Some 8.5 million people received such rebates this summer.

Tip: If you have insurance through your employer, you can keep it. If you need to get insurance through the new law, take your time to research but remember the Dec. 15 deadline. Here is a list of other tips for health insurance shopping.

Myth: Health care will be rationed because of the government. FALSE. The Affordable Care Act is based on principles that Republicans and free-marketeers have trumpeted – private insurance. What the government has done is try to make private insurance affordable for everyone and to put some regulations on insurance companies – like making it illegal to dump someone when they get sick. For more myth-busters, check out PolitiFact.com.



Teresa Albano
Teresa Albano

Teresa Albano was the first woman editor-in-chief of People’s World, 2003-2010, leading the transition from weekly print to daily online publishing and establishing PW’s social media presence. Albano had been a staff writer for People’s World covering political, labor, and social justice issues for more than 25 years. She traveled throughout the U.S. and abroad, including India, Cuba, Angola, Italy, and Paris to cover the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference. An award-winning journalist, Albano has been honored for her writing by the International Labor Communications Association, National Federation of Press Women, and Illinois Woman Press Association.