I Give Up, 
What is Obamacare, Anyway?

By Joe Romano, 

Marketing Manager


What we're also discovering is that Insurance is complicated to buy.

— Barack Obama

GreenStar is a natural foods co-op. We have a commitment to health. We try to supply healthy foods in as natural a state as possible. But even with the best of self-care, sometimes our members need medical care.

In America, health care isn't free. As a result, not all of us can afford it. Ithaca Health Alliance fills the gap in some instances, but not in every instance, and not outside of our community. Our president has championed and won the fight to ensure that all Americans can get the care they need, but he has been having a bad month or two. Most of it has been about the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, dubbed Obamacare.

President Obama deserved the heat: first the website didn't work and then some of the people who liked their insurance were forced to give it up, even though he promised they wouldn't be. If that weren't enough, the enrollment numbers are in, and they are so low that, well, they stink. But if you are like many people, you may not know what the whole thing is all about. And starting next month, all Americans are going to have to comply. So let's go over the main parts of it: we'll keep it really simple.

Obamacare is a federal law that was passed in 2010. It set out to make health insurance work better for the people who were already insured, while making it possible for more of the 60 million people who are uninsured to get health insurance.

There are new rules for people and for insurers:

People who can afford to must obtain health coverage by 2014 or pay a monthly fee.

Insurers must eliminate pre-existing conditions, and may not drop you when you are sick. They must now pay for prescription drugs, having a baby, and cancer screenings. They must cover routine checkups, mental health care, and more.

Obamacare also limits your yearly out-of-pocket fees, such as co-pays for going to the hospital.

Who does it affect?

Half of Americans already have private health insurance, mostly bought by employers.

A third of Americans are on Medicare or 

The remaining one-sixth have to buy health insurance from those online government exchanges. Those are the websites that aren't working.

With me so far? Good. Because that is already most of it.

So what do you do?

You sign up on the exchanges, which are basically one-stop insurance superstores. You cannot be refused, and the government will chip in a portion to help you pay if you are in need. Experts expect over a third of the uninsured will enroll.

If it is this simple, why is everyone attacking Obamacare?

Again, I'll keep it simple: fear.

The overwhelming majority of Americans are insured and they fear losing their coverage.

The fear is that if every American is covered, those who can afford to pay will end up paying more to cover them.

The fact is that once all Americans are in the system, the opposite effect will take place. If we're all covered, we'll all pay less without ever lifting a finger. The great majority of us will benefit greatly.

Very few Americans will ever visit the exchange websites, whether the site is working or not. And a tiny, tiny fraction of us will receive a notice that our current policy has been canceled.

Oh, and that fraction who receive cancellation notices? It's not so much like Big Brother stomping on your rights. It's more like having your favorite restaurant closed by the Board of Health. You don't feel like big government is oppressing you when they close a restaurant for serving you sawdust or bad meat; you feel protected. The same is true of these policies; people are losing policies that are not adequately covering them, or that will kick them off if they get sick. The only policies that are lost are bad policies.

What about those in the middle?

Right now, roughly one-third of Americans are covered by Medicare and Medicaid.

Seniors on Medicare will see no changes at all except that they'll have more and better options for prescription drugs. Some of the greatest benefit from Obamacare comes from enhancements to Medicaid that will provide real health care for the poorest Americans. Almost every family making less than $31,000 would get free Medicaid. That alone will cover almost half of the uninsured. In addition CHIP, the Children's Health Insurance Program, is greatly expanded.

So what is the fix?

Well first of all, fix the website. People have to be able to shop for insurance if this is going to work. Beyond that, just make sure everything works throughout the rest of the system. It is infuriating that a system that has such potential to afford health care to all Americans, while lowering healthcare spending and even reducing the federal budget deficit, is being stymied by a broken website.

What's next?

The Obama Administration has been involved in preventative health care since the first days of Barack Obama' first term. Michelle's organic garden received a lot of attention, as did her Let's Move program, designed to combat childhood obesity. Preventative services covered under Obamacare include immunizations, screenings, and tests. You'll also get yearly check-ups at an additional cost. From Obamacarefacts.gov:

Waiting to treat illness until a person is sick, instead of focusing on prevention, has had a direct effect on the rising health care costs in the US and has caused any Americans to put off seeing a doctor until it's too late due to cost. Preventive care helps you stay healthy. A doctor isn't someone to see only when you're sick. Doctors also provide services that help keep you healthy.

This is forward-thinking policy and the perspective we hold here at GreenStar. Once the website is fixed and people start to enroll, the benefits of the system will become apparent. Perhaps then we can address the real health crisis in America, the state of our food.

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