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 quality health insurance.
For nearly 145,000 of our fellow citizens here in Maine, the opportunity to obtain new, quality coverage will only be a click, call or conversation away when the six-month open enrollment period for the new health insurance marketplace begins Oct. 1.
Meanwhile, the 85 percent of Americans who currently have coverage will continue to benefit from new rights and legal protections.
Here in Maine, there are nearly 9,000 people with private insurance who are now guaranteed access to free preventive services such as cholesterol tests, mammograms and blood pressure screenings. Nine thousand young people in Maine between the ages of 19 and 25 are now able to stay on their parents’ plan. Furthermore, more than 300,000 seniors in this state are better able to afford their prescription drugs, as we close the Medicare “doughnut hole.”
It is all thanks to the new health care law, the Affordable Care Act.
We have a number of resources available to help you and your family learn about your new options under the new law.
Our website — HealthCare.gov — is a great place to start. We think you will agree that it is not your typical government website.
When you visit, you will find that information is clear, user-friendly and interactive. There is even an online chat feature — just like if you are shopping for shoes or clothing online. And there are strong security safeguards to protect people’s personal information from fraud.
If you’d prefer to speak with someone over the phone, we have staff standing by to answer your questions 24/7 — and in 150 languages — at our call center: 1-800-318-2596.
There are also people in your community who have been trained and certified to help you in person at places such as community health centers and pharmacies.
Coverage under the marketplace begins as soon as Jan. 1. But in order to access your new and better options, you have to enroll.
Make no mistake: The plans offered on the marketplace will be actual, honest-to-goodness health insurance. By law, they must cover a set of essential benefits, including visits to your doctor, prescription medications, hospital stays and preventive care like cancer and cholesterol screenings.
Furthermore, your insurance company will be prohibited — by law — from denying you coverage 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 or potential consumer just because she happens to be female.
Living without health insurance can feel like you are in a nonstop game of Russian roulette.
Even if you think 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 will get into a car accident, when we will get a sudden diagnosis or when we will simply need a new prescription.
Without insurance, we have to pay for all these things out of our own pockets.
Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, it has never been easier, or more affordable, to obtain coverage.
Jan. 1 will be a new day for millions of Americans. Better options for better health are only a click, call or conversation away. But to get these better options, you have to enroll, starting Oct. 1.
Kathleen Sebelius is secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.