In my 31 years in Austin, I've seen our city evolve and grow. But the face of Austin hasn't changed. We're a city of academics and entrepreneurs, musicians and engineers, students and politicians. As different as we may be, we are united by our regard for our city, its uniqueness and character.
Whatever type of Austinite you are, we'll all soon be united in another way too. The new health law is coming, and it will impact all of us--young and old, rich and poor, insured and uninsured.
The Affordable Care Act is the law of the land. And, regardless of your political perspective, it is important that you know more about it and if it could potentially benefit you and your family. Don't get me wrong, at around 900 pages, it's a complex law that is made even more complicated by the fact that it references, changes or negates many other laws. The truth is that most Austinites don't understand how the law will impact them. But that's why there's help.
Organizations like AARP have interactive resources to help you determine specifically what the law means for you. A new website, healthlawanswers.org, features up-to-date information in plain English. By just answering six questions, you can get an individually-tailored report on your existing health insurance coverage and what other choices you may have.
Groups like the United Way and the National Urban League will get even more hands-on, acting as "navigators" to help individuals find the new insurance marketplaces and make decisions about what's best for them.
So what does the new health law mean for Austinites? Its importance certainly can't be overstated. It is landmark legislation, which has already helped millions of Americans and thousands of Austinites, in many cases without their knowledge. It helps college students and those just starting out, parents and people mid-career older Americans and retirees. For example, in our area it is predicted that the number of uninsured will drop by more than 40 percent.
Some changes are automatic, and others will take some action on your part. How the law will impact you will depend on your age, gender, family situation and other factors. It will also vary depending on your health status and what sort of health insurance coverage you currently have.
For now, keep one date in mind: October 1. That's when the new health insurance marketplace opens. Because the State of Texas opted not to create its own marketplace, it will be a federally-created one. The marketplace will essentially be an easier way to shop for health plans, not unlike other comparison shopping websites. It's open to anyone not already insured by their employer or by Medicare. Coverage from these plans will kick in at the start of 2014, and financial help will be available to many low- and middle-income people. Instead of going through the marketplace, folks who have Medicare will continue to go through the usual open enrollment, starting October 15.
While changes from the new health law will continue to roll out, AARP will continue to work to make sure Americans--and Austinites--know exactly what the law does and can mean to them. Speakers, like me, are available to come talk to area community and civic groups. And, in addition to being a terrific interactive resource, the Health Law Answers website has materials available for downloading, printing and sharing.
We will all be impacted in one way or another by the health law so I encourage you to get the facts and... Let's keep Austin healthy together.