October 1, 2013 was a historic day for health care access in the United States, the day the health insurance marketplaces created by the Affordable Care Act opened for business. The website came online on October 1.
"Despite the government shutdown, Americans who have been without health insurance or those who purchase insurance for themselves, their families or their small businesses will be able to research, compare and shop for affordable insurance options," says Jon Bailey, director of rural research and analysis at the Center for Rural Affairs in Lyons, Neb. "This is a major step in the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, but we urge patience -- early indications across the nation are that there is so much interest in the marketplaces that there may be delays.
"While observing how the online system functions, some of our own staff experienced usage related delays on the Nebraska marketplace immediately upon its opening," says Bailey. Bailey also points out that while delays are understandably frustrating, they are also a sign of overwhelming interest in and need for affordable health insurance options across the nation.
An overwhelming interest in and need for affordable health insurance options
"October 1st is only the opening of the enrollment period, which runs through March 2014 and everyone only needs to have insurance by January 1, 2014. As we have said all along: Be patient," continued Bailey. "Wait awhile, give the dust a chance to settle. Do your research. Ask for help from navigators, insurance agents and other assistors in your community. And select the best choice for you, your family and your business."~~~PAGE_BREAK_HERE~~~
According to Bailey, millions of Americans have the opportunity to purchase health insurance from either state-operated or federal facilitated health insurance marketplaces. And for millions of the uninsured, that means purchasing health insurance for the first time, or the first time in a while. The functionality of the marketplaces and the affordability of insurance will determine the success of the primary goals of the Affordable Care Act – enrollment in health insurance exchanges to increase insurance coverage and reduce the nation's uninsured.
Many of the provisions of Affordable Care Act are particularly useful to rural residents
"As we have documented in a series of reports, many of the provisions of the Affordable Care Act are particularly applicable to rural people because of rural demographics as well as the unique healthcare challenges and economic circumstances of rural areas," Bailey explains. "Likewise, cost-sharing and limiting out-of-pocket medical expenses will be crucial for many rural families. With generally lower rural incomes combined with higher uninsured rates, more rural residents are likely to be eligible for cost-sharing assistance in the exchanges.
"That is what makes the exchanges, the new health insurance marketplaces, so vitally important to rural Americans," Bailey concludes.
On August 21, 2013 the Center for Rural Affairs released a new report that examines how the Affordable Care Act will provide tax credits and subsidies through new health insurance marketplaces to make health coverage more affordable for many Americans. The report summarizes these provisions, how they will work and their importance to rural Americans. Read or download a full copy of the report here.