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What is the Affordable Care Act and Health Care Reform?

Since passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act – often referred to as “health care reform” — a number of changes that impact health coverage for individuals and employers have taken effect.

These changes broadened access to health coverage, altered the benefits available in many health plans, and created new ways of shopping for health insurance. The law is intended to make it possible for everyone to obtain coverage regardless of their age or health status. Americans who already had insurance have also seen changes in their health plans and what they pay for coverage.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) guarantees that everyone has the ability to buy a health insurance plan, and no one can be charged a higher price because of a pre-existing condition. The Reform Law makes subsidies and an exapanded Medicaid program available to make health care more affordable for low- and middle-income people. Almost everyone, including young people who generally don't use the health care system very much, is now required to buy insurance coverage to help pay for the costs of those who need more health services.

The ACA spells out and standardizes the health benefits that plans must offer. It puts all plans into one of five categories, so plans are more alike and have less differences than in the past. It also set up Health Insurance Marketplaces (Exchanges), available on the internet, for a single, convenient place to compare and buy a health insurance plan. The exchanges also make it possible for you to apply for the subsidies many people will qualify for to lower their costs for health insurance.