Affordable Care Act Brings New Health Care Options to Pennsylvania

— by Chris Lilienthal

Beginning today, Pennsylvanians who are working but lack health insurance will be able to shop for and compare options for affordable coverage, on a new competitive Health Insurance Marketplace established by the federal health care law.

Today marks the first day of a six-month open enrollment period, during which uninsured Pennsylvanians and their families will be able to buy coverage with the help of federal tax subsidies on the new Marketplace. It is the latest provision of the Affordable Care Act to take effect.

More after the jump.
Advocates and health care providers explained during a State Capitol press conference today that the new Marketplace will open the door to health coverage for hundreds of thousands of hardworking Pennsylvanians, who will be able to see a doctor for the first time in years.

Sharon Ward, director of the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, said:

This is the beginning of a journey toward meeting the health care needs of individuals and families across the nation. The Marketplace will give Pennsylvanians valuable new options, and allow them to decide which coverage best fits their family’s needs.

The Marketplace is designed for those who don’t have health coverage through their employers and are not eligible for Medicare, Medicaid, or Children’s Health Insurance Program. Those with employer-offered coverage can keep it.

Insurance companies participating in the Marketplace will compete to provide the best product at the best price to consumers seeking health coverage. Tough rules will ensure that every package sold on the Marketplace covers the basics, like annual checkups and preventive medicine.

Pam Clarke, vice president of finance and managed care for The Hospital & Health System Association of Pennsylvania (HAP), said at the press conference:

Pennsylvania hospitals and health systems across the state stand ready to support consumers in this important enrollment process. We are committed to ensuring that more Pennsylvanians have access to affordable, timely, quality health care, which is so critical to their quality of life. The hospital community and HAP believe the Health Insurance Marketplace will be successful in enrolling many Pennsylvanians in viable health plans.

The Affordable Care Act will also make health care coverage more secure by ensuring that working families cannot be denied coverage due to a pre-existing condition, or lose their coverage or be forced into bankruptcy when someone gets sick. Lifetime caps on insurance benefits will also be a thing of the past.

Seniors who receive Medicare will be able to keep it and do not need to go through the new Marketplace for coverage. Under the Affordable Care Act, Medicare will cover more prescription drug costs as the new law will close the donut hole.

Ray Landis, advocacy manager for American Association of Retired Persons Pennsylvania, said:

The beginning of the health exchange open enrollment process is especially important for those between the ages of 50 and 64, who are not yet eligible for Medicare, but who have had the most difficult time finding affordable health insurance, because of the chronic health conditions that affect many people in this age group.

Patricia Fonzi, vice president of customer service and relationship management of the Family Health Council of Central Pennsylvania, added:

The new law also improves health care for women and children. No longer will insurers be able to charge women more than men for the same coverage or deny coverage for maternity care.

Pennsylvanians should go to the Marketplace’s website to apply through the state’s federally-established Marketplace and to find additional information and help. Open enrollment runs from Oct. 1, 2013 through March 31, 2014. Applicants must apply by Dec. 15 to begin receiving coverage Jan. 1. People needing assistance can call 1-800-318-2596.