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What is Health Care Reform?

Health Care Reform in 2014:

The Affordable Care Act hits full stride

Jan. 1 will be more than the beginning of the new year in 2014. It will also mark the date when many key provisions of the Affordable Care Act take effect.

These provisions are intended to make it easier for you to purchase health insurance. They’ll also provide new protections if you already have health care coverage. For instance, on Jan. 1:

Health exchanges will offer affordable insurance options. The exchanges are online marketplaces where you can shop for health plans. All of the plans must meet certain standards for benefits and costs. Some of the exchanges will be run by the federal government. Others will be run by individual states. Coverage won’t begin until January. But you can sign up online starting Oct. 1. Go to www.healthcare.gov.

Tax credits will help many people buy insurance. These credits will be available to people with incomes between 100 and 400 percent of the poverty guidelines who can’t afford coverage elsewhere. You can get the credit before tax time, which should make it easier to pay for insurance premiums.

Access to Medicaid increases. If you earn less than 133 percent of the poverty level, you’ll be eligible to enroll in this government-based insurance program.

Coverage can’t be denied because of pre-existing conditions. This protection applies if you’re seeking new coverage or renewing an existing policy.

Annual benefit caps will be banned. This means insurance companies can no longer put limits on the benefits you receive in any given year.

You cannot be denied coverage if you choose to take part in clinical trials. This will apply to all trials that involve cancer or other life-threatening diseases.

Originally, another key aspect of the law was expected to kick in on Jan. 1: Large employers were supposed to begin offering their workers affordable health coverage or face fines. That provision has now been delayed a year in order to help businesses comply with the law.

The many provisions of the law that do take effect, however, should get the new year off to a good start. If better health is one of your resolutions, the Affordable Care Act may help make it possible.

Sources: Healthcare.gov; U.S. Department of the Treasury