It's been months since the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act—better known as Obamacare—has been phased in, but today is the last day to sign up during this enrollment period. Still, even though the White House is calling the effort a success (and Republicans continue to attack the president's handling of the bill), the exact details of the Affordable Care Act remain murky to many. In case you want more information before you enroll, here are some quick answers to questions you may have. If you don't have health care, read on, and then sign up (and really do sign up—you'll get fined if you don't).
So, what is Obamacare?
Obamacare makes it possible for uninsured people to buy into private insurance from a licenced insurance provider through a government marketplace. To do so, go to HealthCare.gov and follow the directions. The site will prompt you for the info it needs for your specific state and circumstances.
But I thought HealthCare.gov was totally messed up?
It was, but now it's up and running. Though it was a huge embarrassment for the White House initially, the process has gotten pretty smooth and should only take you a few minutes.
What does it mean that "enrollment is ending"?
Obamacare is structured so that there are certain enrollment periods, much like most companies that provide insurance to employees. During open periods, you can change plans and sign up for health care. The current enrollment period was actually scheduled to end February 15, but it was pushed back. The current deadline is now March 31 (a.k.a. today).
So today is the last day I can get coverage?
Not really. Enrollment will be allowed through April 15 if you've already started the enrollment process and created an account. It's a move that has lead to criticism from Republicans, most viciously from Speaker of the House John Boehner ("The administration is now resorting to an honor system to enforce it. What the hell is this, a joke?"). Still, considering the rocky early roll-out, giving people some extra time probably isn't the worst idea.
What happens if I don't enroll during this period?
The next enrollment starts November 15, so you'll have to wait until then. Unfortunately, you will also be fined for not having insurance. The fines are calculated by a structure based on income levels that can be found here. Though fines are relatively low right now, they are set to increase in the future.
What if I'm insured through my job?
If you work at a large company that offers insurance, you likely don't have to do anything. Starting next year, however, companies with over 100 workers are only required to provide insurance for 70 percent of employees (rather than 95 percent). That means less people will be getting insurance through work and will have to sign up for Obamacare.
Is there there anything else I need to know?
Another good reason to sign up today is that rates may go up in November. As insurance companies adjust to the new system, they'll be shifting around pricing systems. By signing up today you avoid the fines and may wind up paying a lower monthly bill.
So is Obamacare a success or a failure?
It's too early to tell. The White House is coming close to its aim to signing up seven million people this period (they recently announced that they've signed up more than six). People with low incomes now have the option to buy insurance at the lowest prices ever and insurance companies are pushing hard to get people in before the deadline. That said, Obamacare has had so much negative publicity it may take time for the public to fully come around to it. It's a wait-and-see situation, but things are looking brighter for the policy.