WASHINGTON (WUSA9) -- The Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, went into effect Tuesday, despite efforts by the GOP to defund the system. Open enrollment got underway with some start-up, technology glitches that affected registration websites.
President Obama noted the irony that while attempts to defund the law led to the partial shutdown of the government, the healthcare law is largely unaffected.
Ron Pollack, the Executive Director and Vice President of the non-profit group Families USA, talked to us on Wednesday morning.
We asked him: what timetable should folks think about in terms of choosing health care going forward as they face down that January 1 deadline for coverage to begin and the March deadline to actually sign up?
"As you said the enrollment period now begins. For anybody who gets enrolled, they can start getting these benefits come January 1. So I think it's really important for people to get enrolled before mid-December because anyone who does get enrolled prior to mid- December, they will start receiving these benefits on January 1," said Pollack.
Pollack said one of the most significant things for folks to realize is how much financial assistance is out there for a lot of people. He explained, "This is totally new so for people with incomes below 400% of poverty, that's for a person living alone, that's $46,000. For a four-person family, that's $94,200. So this reaches deeply into the middle class. And anyone with income below those levels will qualify for very significant subsidies to help them pay their premiums. This is in the thousands of dollars, and it's provided on what we call a sliding scale. The greater help you need, the greater help you will receive."
People ill apply for the subsidies through the exchanges themselves. "They will go to these marketplaces and they will file their application," said Pollack. "They'll tell what their income is and how many people are in the family. That will determine whether they're eligible."
There's also assistance out there to even help you through the process.
"There are people called navigators and they will be there to provide counsel to people. They will help them get enrolled. People who want help, they'll be able to receive it. The group actually that I think is most important to know about are people who got health problems. They obviously are the ones who care most about getting help in the health care system. So people with pre-existing conditions, asthma, diabetes, high blood pressure, history of cancer, those folks used to be shut out of America's health care system because insurance companies did not want to provide coverage to them. So they now are going to get protections because no insurance company can deny coverage due to a pre-existing condition. They can't charge a discriminatory premium based on health status. women can no longer be charged a higher premium. And if you keep on paying your premiums and you get sick, you can't all of a sudden be cut off your health insurance," said Pollack.
D.C. and Maryland are running their own marketplaces. Virginia is being run by the federal government. Does that make a difference in terms of coverage?
Pollack told us, "I'm very pleased that in addition to the District of Columbia and Maryland, they will have really good marketplaces. They're run by terrific people. In Virginia, the state has refused to run its own marketplace so the federal government will be doing that. But the big difference between Virginia versus Maryland and the District is that for the lowest income people, they will receive the benefit of an expansion of the Medicaid program. Virginia so far has refused to do so. That would change based on the gubernatorial election. What's interesting is in Virginia right now, the poorest of the poor, they're the ones shut out of the system."