What Is the Obamacare Health Plan?

The Obamacare health plan, also called the Affordable Care Act, or ACA, is a federally instituted healthcare policy. Enacted in 2010, it is designed to extend healthcare coverage to a larger group of people.

The Affordable Care Act earned the nickname of "Obamacare" because it was implemented by former United States President Barack Obama, who was the acting president in 2010. The Affordable Care Act has three main goals, which are to make health insurance more widely available and more affordable to individuals in the U.S.; expand the Medicaid program to provide coverage with qualifying income levels; and support novel methods of medical care delivery that make healthcare more accessible to people in the U.S., notes Healthcare.gov.

Qualification Criteria
To qualify for Obamacare, people must have health insurance for nine months out of the year. They must also have a qualifying income, which dictates the number of tax deductions and financial assistance they will get through the healthcare plan. Tax subsidies available through Obamacare can reduce the cost of health insurance for households earning an income of anywhere between 100 percent and 400 percent less than the federal poverty level, says Healthcare.gov. The federal poverty level changes yearly, and it is set by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The second goal of the program is to extend the federal Medicaid program to give financial relief to qualifying citizens. This call calls for the insurance coverage of all adults whose income is calculated at 138 percent lower than the federal poverty level for the current year. Medicaid is a federal and state insurance assistance program that's designed to bring lower insurance costs to qualifying individuals. Because it is also regulated at the state level, states historically have had discrepancies in their implementation of Medicaid programs. The second goal of the Obamacare program is to make Medicaid evenly allocated among the states and close gaps in coverage in non-participating states or states with weaker programs.

Applying for Coverage
In order to get coverage under Obamacare, people must apply for coverage during the enrollment period. In 2017, the enrollment period was between November 1 and December 15. Those who miss the year's window of opportunity can still apply during that time for temporary insurance provided by a traditional insurance company or can submit an application for Medicaid health insurance, which relies on a certain qualifying income level. During the application period, people can compare available health plans to determine which ones best fit their financial and personal needs. As with traditional insurance programs, the cost of the actual plans varies as do copayments and other expenses.

Although Obamacare is available as an insurance option, it is not mandatory for those who already have insurance coverage. People with pre-existing insurance offered through an employer, for instance, can stay with that same plan. However, people with insurance coverage are also free to explore alternatives through Obamacare. Whether it's offered through pre-existing coverage or Obamacare, insurance companies have an obligation to fill several legal requirements. They are not allowed to drop people with pre-existing coverage from their plans, and they must allow children to remain on their parents' plans until age 26. While Obamacare insurance can provide coverage and protection for qualifying individuals, there are potential penalties for those who choose to go without insurance coverage. Fines for not having insurance can be a tax penalty of 2.5 percent of a person's income with slight variations based on income.