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Op-ed: New health care benefits begin today for millions
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

As we wish our friends and family a happy, healthy New Year, these words have renewed meaning in 2014.

Today is a new day in health care for millions of families and individuals throughout Utah.

It's now against the law for insurance companies to deny you coverage or charge you more because of a pre-existing medical condition like diabetes, high-blood pressure or asthma. And they can no longer drop you from coverage just because you get sick or get into an accident.

What's more, insurance companies can no longer impose an annual cap on your health benefits. They can't deny you coverage simply because you made a mistake on your paperwork. Most plans must now cover preventive services like cholesterol and cancer screenings, at no out-of-pocket cost. And, being a woman is no longer a pre-existing condition.

It's all thanks to the health care law: The Affordable Care Act.

If you do not have health insurance through your job, you have an opportunity to obtain quality, affordable coverage. In fact, you may even qualify for financial assistance to help lower the cost of your premiums.

The Health Insurance Marketplace has brought choice and competition to Utah that were previously unavailable: In the Salt Lake City area you can choose from 85 qualified health plans.

As millions of Americans learn about their new options, they're finding just how affordable health coverage can be under the new law. A family of four in Salt Lake City earning $50,000 per year can obtain affordable coverage for as little as $121 per month (with premium tax credits).

Nationwide, six in 10 uninsured Americans can obtain coverage for as little as $100 a month or less.

And make no mistake: The plans offered on the Marketplace are actual, honest-to-goodness health insurance. By law, they must cover a set of essential benefits, including visits with doctors, prescription medications, hospital stays, ambulatory care, maternity and newborn care, and preventive services.

You still have three more months to enroll in affordable coverage – the deadline is March 31, 2014.

If you want your health insurance to begin February 1st, you'll need to sign up by Jan. 15. You can find in-person assistance in your own community at LocalHelp.HealthCare.gov.

This is a milestone for the many families who have waited too long for affordable health insurance because of a broken system that was stacked against them. Before today, Americans could be dropped from coverage when they got sick, or locked out of the system if they had a health condition, or priced out in the first place because of their health status. Now, not only are there new rights and benefits, we are also seeing the slowest health care price inflation in 50 years.

Whenever I travel, I meet folks who tell me how long they've been waiting for the opportunity to obtain affordable coverage. Some have even been waiting their entire lives.

I keep thinking about Diane who I met recently in Michigan. In the past, Diane's pre-existing medical condition had made finding quality, affordable health insurance nearly impossible. After being uninsured for over six years, Diane recently enrolled in coverage using HealthCare.gov. Now, Diane no longer needs to worry about treating her condition — or going bankrupt because of an unexpected illness or injury.

For Diane and for millions of Americans like her, it's a new day in health care because of the Affordable Care Act.

Kathleen Sebelius is U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services.

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