As the politicians fuss and fight over the merits of the biggest overhaul of the health insurance system in this country, you may be wondering, "What does this all mean to me?" Here's what we know so far about what's up with your healthcare.
It's all about me
The Affordable Care Act went into effect in 2010 and was affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2012, despite the 42 times the House Republicans tried to repeal it.
It will have the most dramatic impact on the 48 million Americans who don't or haven't been able to get insurance. By 2014, everyone -- with a few exceptions -- has to have insurance or face a penalty.
I get insurance through work. Why should I care?
More than half of Americans get health insurance through work. For those keeping score at home, that's 55.1 percent of the population, or about 149 million non-elderly people, according to U.S. Census data.
If that's you, news about the Affordable Care Act marketplace computer problems and people getting letters saying they're losing their coverage -- that doesn't affect you.
What you do have to worry about is that email reminder your company sends you this time every year telling you about open enrollment season.
You may notice that information packet is a lot easier to read and the different plans are a lot easier to compare. You've got the Affordable Care Act to thank for that, since it is now mandatory that these companies communicate clearly about what they have to offer.
If your child is under the age of 26, under the Affordable Care Act, they can stay on your insurance. It doesn't matter if they live with you or not or whether they're married or single. As long as they don't get insurance anywhere else, you can keep them covered.
Also because of the Affordable Care Act, many health plans must offer you free preventative care services. You can get your blood pressure or cholesterol checked, get a colonoscopy or a mammogram, ask for a flu shot, seek counseling for alcohol or smoking, find out if you are depressed and seek other preventative screenings. Since studies show 70 percent of all healthcare conditions are considered preventable, in theory this should keep a lot of people healthier.
If you are a woman, you no longer need a referral to see a gynecologist. Maternity care is provided. So is birth control, which would come at no cost in most plans.
Now if you are denied a payment new rules give you a chance to appeal a decision and if that doesn't work the Affordable Care Act lets you take your appeal to an outside independent review panel. The law now says the insurance company has to let you know why your claim was denied and they have a time limit in which they have to answer your appeal.
Will I pay more for my insurance?
Your plan will probably take a little more out of your check next year, but really that's nothing new.
Some companies, such as UPS and Delta, did blame the Affordable Care Act for rising insurance costs, but experts say employees will pay more for their policies because the economy is improving. When people feel more secure financially, they go to the doctor more and get tests and procedures they put off when they felt less secure, according to Tim Nimmer, the chief healthcare actuary at Aon Hewitt, an employee benefits administrator.
Aon Hewitt's research on the cost of insurance predicts employees will spend just under $5,000 on premiums and out-of-pocket expenses next year. That's up 9.5 percent from the year before -- higher than the increases for 2013, which were more in the 5 percent range. Over the past 10 years, average premiums for a family have kept going up a whopping 80 percent, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation report.
Another reason you'll pay a little more is because employers are continuing to shift the cost of insurance to employees, studies show. There are also new fees on employers and insurers to help cover insurers with new high-risk enrollees.
"I think they key point is to recognize that victory in healthcare is not that the cost of your healthcare is going up, it is that it is going up more slowly," said Jonathan Gruber, one of the architects of both the Massachusetts and Obama healthcare plans and the author of a graphic novel that simply explains health care reform.
What happens when I use my benefits?