In 2010, President Barack Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act into law. It prohibits insurance companies from denying coverage to patients with pre-existing conditions and allows children to remain on their parents' insurance plan until they reach the age of 26. In participating states, the act also expanded Medicaid, a government program that provides medical care for individuals with very low incomes. In addition to these changes, the ACA established the federal Healthcare Marketplace. The marketplace helps individuals and businesses shop for quality insurance plans at affordable rates. Low-income individuals who sign up for insurance through the marketplace may qualify for subsidies to help bring down costs.
The share of Americans without health insurance has been cut in half since 2013. Many of the reforms instituted by the Affordable Care Act of 2010 were designed to extend health care coverage to those without it; however, high cost growth continues unabated. National health expenditures are projected to grow 4.7% per person per year from 2016 to 2025. Public healthcare spending was 29% of federal mandated spending in 1990 and 35% of it in 2000. It is also projected to be roughly half in 2025.
However, with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, effective since 2014, federal laws have created some uniformity in partnership with the existing state-based system. Insurers are prohibited from discriminating against or charging higher rates for individuals based on pre-existing medical conditions and must offer a standard set of coverage.
While politically difficult, some politicians and observers have argued for a single-payer system. A bill, the United States National Health Care Act, was first proposed by Representative John Conyers in 2003 and has been perennially proposed since, including during the debate on the public option and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. President Obama has come out against a single-payer reform at this time, stating in the joint session of Congress that "it makes more sense to build on what works and fix what doesn't, rather than try to build an entirely new system from scratch." Obama had previously expressed that he is a proponent of a single payer universal health care program during an AFL-CIO conference in 2003.
Health insurance companies are not actually providing traditional insurance, which involves the pooling of risk, because the vast majority of purchasers actually do face the harms that they are "insuring" against. Instead, as Edward Beiser and Jacob Appel have separately argued, health insurers are better thought of as low-risk money managers who pocket the interest on what are really long-term healthcare savings accounts.
The public option was featured in three bills considered by the United States House of Representatives in 2009: the proposed Affordable Health Care for America Act (H.R. 3962), which was passed by the House in 2009, its predecessor, the proposed America's Affordable Health Choices Act (H.R. 3200), and a third bill, the Public Option Act, also referred to as the "Medicare You Can Buy Into Act", (H.R. 4789). In the first two bills, the public option took the form of a Qualified Health Benefit Plan competing with similar private insurance plans in an internet-based exchange or marketplace, enabling citizens and small businesses to purchase health insurance meeting a minimum federal standard. The Public Option Act, in contrast, would have allowed all citizens and permanent residents to buy into a public option by participating in the public Medicare program. Individuals covered by other employer plans or by state insurance plans such as Medicare would have not been eligible to obtain coverage from the exchange. The federal government's health insurance plan would have been financed entirely by premiums without subsidy from the Federal government, although some plans called for government seed money to get the programs started.
The shared responsibility provision is part of the Affordable Care Act, also known as ACA or Obamacare. The goal is to ensure that all US citizens and permanent residents have access to quality health insurance. Any non-resident aliens, including international students on F, J, M and Q visas (and certain family members of students) are not subject to the individual mandate for their first 5 years in the U.S. All other J categories (teacher, trainee, work and travel, au pair, high school, etc.) are not subject to the individual mandate for 2 years (out of the past six).
Financial Assistance Available: Most uninsured individuals will qualify for financial assistance called a Health Insurance Premium Tax Credit to help make their insurance premiums affordable. The amount of financial assistance will depend on your income and family size. Individuals with low incomes may qualify for free or very low premiums. To find out how much financial assistance you may qualify for, check out the Kaiser Family Foundation’s subsidy calculator.
In the late 1990s federal legislation had been proposed to "create federally-recognized Association Health Plans which was then "referred to in some bills as 'Small Business Health Plans.' The National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC), which is the "standard-setting and regulatory of chief insurance regulators from all states, the District of Columbia and territories, cautioned against implementing AHPs citing "plan failures like we saw The Multiple Employer Welfare Arrangements (MEWAs) in the 1990s." "[S]mall businesses in California such as dairy farmers, car dealers, and accountants created AHPs "to buy health insurance on the premise that a bigger pool of enrollees would get them a better deal." A November 2017 article in the Los Angeles Times described how there were only 4 remaining AHPs in California. Many of the AHPs filed for bankruptcy, "sometimes in the wake of fraud." State legislators were forced to pass "sweeping changes in the 1990s" that almost made AHPs extinct.
The purpose behind the public option was to make more affordable health insurance for uninsured citizens who are either unable to afford the rates of or are rejected by private health insurers. Supporters argued that a government insurance company could successfully lower its rates by using greater leverage than private industry when negotiating with hospitals and doctors, as well as paying the employees of the public option insurance company salaries as opposed to paying based on individual medical procedures.
Many Democratic politicians were publicly in favor of the public option for a variety of reasons. President Obama continued campaigning for the public option during the debate. In a public rally in Cincinnati on September 7, 2009, President Obama said: "I continue to believe that a public option within the basket of insurance choices would help improve quality and bring down costs." The President also addressed a Joint Session of Congress on September 9, 2009, reiterating his call for a public insurance option, saying that he had "no interest in putting insurance companies out of business" while saying that the public option would "have to be self-sufficient" and succeed by reducing overhead costs and profit motives. Democratic Representative Sheila Jackson-Lee, who represents the 18th congressional district in Houston, believed that a "vigorous public option" would be included in the final bill and would "benefit the state of Texas."