Nearly five years since the passage of the Affordable Care Act - a law often referred to as ObamaCare - Americans are still riled up over the state of the healthcare system. Some Americans want the ACA repealed, as do numerous Republican lawmakers in Washington D.C. However, most Americans want the law to be kept or improved upon. Questions abound no matter where people stand on the overall issue. The law requires everyone to either buy health insurance or pay a fine, and it also requires health insurance policies to meet certain thresholds of quality. Was the ACA a worthwhile change? To answer that question, one must first look beyond the common misconceptions of ObamaCare.
The fine generally applies to people who can reasonably afford health insurance but choose not to get covered. Even then, people are allowed to be without health insurance for up to three months before they're required to pay fines, and people can be exempted from the healthcare mandate by meeting various financial conditions. For example, people don't have to pay the fine if a basic health insurance policy would cost more than 8 percent of the family's income. This protects low-income Americans who would truly be overburdened by the costs of health insurance.
The launch of the Obamacare Website (called the Healthcare Exchange) was marred by lag, glitches and repeated server failures. It took weeks for the site to function well enough so that people could actually buy health insurance from it. However, those Web woes are things of the distant past, and now the Website is responsive and very easy to use.
Obamacare doesn't regulate health insurance prices in any way, shape or form. What the ACA did was create an online marketplace where people could quickly and easily compare the costs and features of all plans in their price ranges. This has created greater competition between health insurance providers, and that competition has kept prices from rising as rapidly as they did before the ACA. Encouraging competition to keep prices low is about as "free market" as it gets.
Healthcare in the United States still runs through the private sector, just as it did before the passage of the ACA. The only difference is that health insurance providers must now provide higher levels of care and coverage with their health insurance policies; in return, all Americans must buy into the healthcare system, either by getting insurance or paying a fine. There's nothing socialist about Obamacare. In fact, the concept of Obamacare is based largely on a law championed by Mitt Romney (yes, the same Mitt Romney who represented Republicans in the 2012 presidential election) during his time as governor of Massachusetts.
Premiums have increased since the passage of Obamacare, but they've been increasing at historically slow rates compared to the speed at which they were rising before the ACA. The healthcare law creates greater competition between health insurance providers, providing a big disincentive for large rate increases. Also, the law put several rules in place that make it harder for health insurance companies to hike up rates for no reason. Health insurance premiums will always go up, but they're going up now at a much slower rate than before.
People who get insurance through their employers don't need to go to the online insurance marketplace; that's mainly for people who are uninsured. However, even people who get employer-sponsored health insurance may be able to find cheaper insurance benefits by checking the marketplace.
A report from the federal Energy and Commerce Committee indicated that only 67 percent of people who signed up for health insurance through the ACA had paid their premiums. This is deceiving, though, because most people who didn't pay their premiums had purchased plans that hadn't started yet. When removing those policy holders from the equation, the percentage of people who paid their premiums is closer to 85 percent.
Starting this year, the employer mandate of Obamacare only affects businesses with more than 50 full-time employees, and businesses that large account for just .2 percent of all companies in the United States. That said, employers have tried to skirt the law by firing employees or restructuring their schedules. This is a sad consequence of the law, but this kind of behavior by employers has been around since long before the ACA was conceived.