A few weeks into the rocky launch of the health insurance marketplaces, Obamacare is struggling to accomplish one of its most crucial tasks: Extending coverage to millions of uninsured Americans.
With political tensions running high -- and the government Web site still suffering glitches-- readers have lots of questions about how the law is supposed to work, when it will work and, at the end of the day, what it means for them.
Here is your guide (with links to the latest Washington Post coverage) to understanding Obamacare.
Q: Can you please explain Obamacare?
A: The first thing to understand is that Obamacare leaves most of the health care system alone. About seven percent of Americans are expected to enroll in the new health insurance marketplace. What will these health insurance marketplaces look like? Similar to a travel booking Web site, they will allow you to compare prices on insurance packages. We also know that the marketplace hopes to draw lots of young and healthy people who will help bring costs down, especially for the sick and the elderly who pay higher premiums.
Learn more about the key part of the legislation, the new insurance marketplaces, and how they work in this video.
Q: What if I already have insurance from my workplace?
A: You are covered, but that doesn’t mean you can’t shop around for a more affordable plan in the marketplace. You just may not get any help paying for premiums that your employer would likely cover.
See if you qualify for a government subsidy in this video.
Q: Who doesn’t have to enroll? And why will 30 million people still be uninsured?
A: Starting in 2014, everyone will have to carry a minimum amount of health insurance or pay a fine — but there are exceptions to the rule. You may get around the mandate if: You don’t have to file a tax return because your income is too low to tax, you’re uninsured only for less than three months out of the year, you can’t afford insurance even after the government’s help (that cost would be more than eight percent of your income), or if you are going through a life crisis.
Find out what kind of life crises make people exempt from having to buy health insurance in this video.
Q: Can I be denied coverage?
A: No. Beginning in 2014 all insurance companies, inside or outside the marketplace, will not be allowed to deny people coverage or charge them more based on preexisting medical conditions.
Learn what factors might cause you to pay a higher premium in this video.
Q: Are all insurance marketplaces created equal?
A: Not necessarily. Why? Two big reasons: Not all states run their own marketplaces, and not all states decided to expand Medicaid.
See which states are or are not expanding Medicaid in this video.
Q: If I don’t have health insurance, will I go to jail?
A: No, but you will have to pay. As of 2014, if you can afford health insurance and don’t qualify for an exemption from the individual mandate, you will have to pay a tax penalty for not carrying coverage.