Affordable Care Act working for Washington state residents

COURTESY TO THE BELLINGHAM HERALDDecember 17, 2013 

This January, millions of Americans will ring in the New Year with the security and peace of mind that has eluded them for decades: They will finally have access to quality affordable health insurance.

For more than 800,000 of our fellow Washingtonians, the opportunity to obtain new, high-quality coverage is only a click, call or conversation away. Washington Healthplanfinder.org where people can shop for coverage that meets their unique needs and their budget, is open now. Since the initial launch of the Washington Healthplanfinder, we've learned that the demand for affordable health coverage is very, very high -- more than 175,000 Washingtonians have signed up for coverage since then and people continue to apply daily.

Meanwhile, the 85 percent of Americans who currently have coverage will continue to benefit from new rights and legal protections. Here in Washington, there are more than 1.6 million people with private insurance who are now guaranteed access to free preventive services such as cholesterol tests, mammograms and blood-pressure screenings. Sixty-two thousand young people in Washington between the ages of 19 and 25 are now able to stay on their parents' plan. Furthermore, 372,468 children can no longer be denied coverage due to a preexisting condition. And beginning in January, no Washingtonian can be denied coverage due to a preexisting condition.

It is all thanks to the new health-care law: the Affordable Care Act.

There are a number of resources available to help you and your family learn about your new options under the new law.

If you'd prefer to speak with someone over the phone, Washington Healthplanfinder has staff standing by to answer your questions at their call center: 1-855-WAFINDER (1-855-923-4633). There also are people in your community who have been trained and certified to help you in person at places such as community health centers and pharmacies. You can find a list of them at http://wahbexchange.org/info-you/individuals-and-families/customer-support-network/.

Coverage begins as soon as Jan. 1. But in order to access your new and better options, you have to enroll. The plans offered in Washington's Healthplanfinder must cover a set of essential benefits, including visits to your doctor, prescription medications, hospital stays and preventive care such as cancer and cholesterol screenings. Furthermore, your insurance company will be prohibited - by law - from denying you coverage or charging you more just because you have a pre-existing condition, such as high blood pressure or diabetes.

More good news: Being a woman will no longer be a pre-existing condition. Insurance companies are forbidden by law from discriminating against a consumer by charging her more just because she happens to be female. And if you've received a diagnosis such as cancer or diabetes, the new law also forbids insurance companies from charging you more.

Even if you think that you are too healthy to need coverage, we are all just an accident or illness away from a devastating medical bill. We never know when we will need to make that unexpected trip to the emergency room, when we might get into a car accident, when we will get an unexpected diagnosis or when we will simply need a new prescription.

Jan. 1 will be a new day for millions of Americans. Better options for better health are only a click, call or conversation away right now. But to get these better options, you have to enroll now. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, it has never been easier or more affordable to obtain coverage. So join with thousands to make a New Year's resolution early this year- sign up now to have the gift of health security in 2014.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Susan Johnson is the regional director for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services region 10, which includes Washington, Alaska, Idaho and Oregon.

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