It all happened at the stroke of midnight. At the very moment when the federal government shut down for the first time in 17 years, two remarkably different events took place in Washington.
On Capitol Hill, Republicans in the House of Representatives were busy trying to close down the government in a last ditch effort to stop Obamacare. But at the Department of Health and Human Services, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was busy turning on the lights to launch the HealthCare.gov website at the heart of Obamacare.
Shortly after midnight, the front page of the national health-care website put up a new welcome message. "The Health Insurance Marketplace Is Open!" And with that, Obamacare officially unlocked the doors for millions of Americans to shop for affordable health-care coverage for the first time.
What does all this mean to you, the consumer? No matter what happens with the government shutdown, there's at least 10 good reasons to appreciate Obamacare.
1. If you already have health care coverage, you get to keep it. Despite Republican lies and misinformation, the new law does not take away your insurance or your doctor. You don't have to change anything if you don't want to do so. And for those who don't have coverage, Obamacare provides opportunities as well.
2. People with pre-existing conditions can now get coverage. Thanks to the ACA, insurance companies will now be required to cover people with pre-existing conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, asthma or HIV.
3. You no longer have to worry about losing your insurance. Under the ACA, insurance companies can no longer drop your coverage if you get sick and they can't impose lifetime limits or yearly limits on the amount of coverage you receive.
4. It's now easier for young people to get coverage. People under the age of 26 are now able to remain on their parents' health-care plan thanks to Obamacare.
5. Seniors caught in the Medicare "donut hole" get relief. Seniors get a 50 percent Medicare discount when buying Part D-covered brand-name prescription drugs. Since the ACA took effect, seniors have already saved more than $6 billion because of this provision.
6. Health care coverage is becoming more affordable. The new health-care exchanges will provide dramatically lower prices in some instances. In fact, rates are expected to drop by 50 percent in New York state alone. Other states have begun to report cost savings as well.
7. The government will help you pay for it. If you still can't afford coverage with the new lower rates, the government will provide you with a subsidy to help pay for the cost of your insurance depending on your annual income.
8. Small business will get relief. Although businesses with 50 or fewer employees are not required to offer coverage, they will be eligible for new tax credits and incentives to provide coverage for their employees. They'll also get to shop in a new marketplace that pools the resources of other small businesses to help lower costs of coverage.
9. Insurance companies can no longer exploit you. If you're worried about being bilked by insurance companies to pay for high executive salaries and administrative costs, fear no more. You'll be eligible to receive a rebate or a refund if your insurer doesn't spend at least 80 percent of your premium on your health care coverage.
10. You can start living healthier. Under the ACA, new health-care plans will now provide free preventive care, like blood pressure and cholesterol tests, mammograms, colonoscopies, vaccines and preventive services for women. Now you don't have to wait until you have an emergency to see the doctor.
No, the Affordable Care Act is not perfect. It doesn't cover everyone. It's not universal coverage. And parts of it won't start until 2015. But it's the first step toward making America a better, fairer, and healthier country.
While critics have tried for years to confuse you with lies and misinformation, it's now time to focus on the facts. Obamacare is not killing jobs. It's not forcing employers to cut hours. It's not raising health care costs. There's no "government bureaucrats" standing between you and your doctor. And there's definitely no "death panels" in the law, no matter what Sarah Palin says.
The Affordable Care Act is a good solid deal. It took decades of hard work to get health care reform passed by Congress, signed by the president and upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. It's the law of the land now. Republicans should get over it. And Americans should take advantage of it.
Keith Boykin is a New York Times best-selling author and former White House aide to President Clinton. He attended Harvard Law School with President Barack Obama and currently serves as a TV political commentator. He writes commentary for BET.com each week.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.
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