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What you need to know about the Affordable Care Act

Kristen Fischer is a copywriter, author and journalist based in New Jersey. She is a Certified Professional Resume Writer (CPRW) and host on the monthly podcast, Freelance Radio. Learn more about Kristen at www.kristenfischer.com.

Obamacare measures that impact women

As Americans are invited to sign up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, what does the law mean for women's health?

Woman at appointment with doctor

As of today, Americans can begin purchasing health insurance as part of the Affordable Care Act. Also known as Obamacare, the new law aims to make health insurance available to every American.

According to the Center for American Progress, there are about 21 million uninsured women in the U.S. A Commonwealth Fund report found last year that 20 percent of American women did not have insurance in 2010, which was up from 15 percent that were not insured in 2000. The Guttmacher Institute used U.S. Census Bureau data to conclude that one in five women of reproductive age (from 15 to 44) did not have insurance in 2012, and four out of 10 women in the age group lived below the poverty line and did not have insurance.

About every three out of five Americans will receive insurance through their employers next year, according to the Congressional Budget Office. About 12 percent receive insurance via Medicaid or the Children's Health Insurance Program. Older Americans can use Medicare. So the majority of people will not have to buy a new plan via exchanges at www.healthcare.gov, but the reform law does impact them because it has enacted a few across-the-board changes to health care insurance on the whole. For example, people cannot be turned away for pre-existing conditions.

So, what does the new law mean for women? We put together a few must-read notes.

Fair coverage for women

Under the ACA, women cannot be charged more for insurance based on their sex, and all people cannot be charged more based on what used to be considered a pre-existing condition. This is an overall change to health care, whether you buy a plan through www.healthcare.gov or use your employer’s plan. In the past, some insurers denied women coverage because they considered childbirth or domestic violence a pre-existing condition.

Planned Parenthood launched a website to help women learn more about what the law means for women. It includes a cost calculator and details women should consider when choosing a health insurance plan.

More services offered

Essential services such as prescription drugs, maternity care, emergency room visits, preventative care and behavioral health are provided under the ACA. The plans have to cover certain preventative services — such as birth control, mammograms, well-woman visits and screenings for cervical cancer, hypertension, depression and diabetes — without any out-of-pocket costs to the woman.

Extended coverage for dependents

Children can stay on their parents’ insurance plans until they are 26 years old.

Doctor selection may change

Women who have a doctor or hospital they like may not be able to use that particular service anymore. According to The Washington Post, states with their own health exchange systems may not cover all physicians and facilities as a way to keep their costs low.

More Medicaid coverage

As of next year, approximately 7 million uninsured women will be able to obtain Medicaid coverage. Women with incomes that are up to 133 percent less than the federal poverty line are now eligible, so more people can acquire Medicaid.

Work hours may decrease

Employers are required to provide insurance for staffers working at least 30 hours a week. As a result, many companies have trimmed their staff or cut hours. This means that women working part-time gigs could feel a pinch from fewer hours and less pay. Women over 20 make up 57 percent of the part-time work force, according to The Washington Post.

You don’t have to buy it

The ACA most likely won’t apply to women who are covered under an employer’s plan, but it will affect women who do not have insurance or may be self-employed — namely because it will allow those women to purchase coverage.

Americans do not have to buy insurance via the exchanges or have an insurance policy at all. If you decide to go without health care, you will have to pony up $95 or 1 percent of your family income (whichever is higher) this year as a tax penalty, which would be deducted on your 2015 tax return. The fee will go up over the next few years. In 2015, for example, you’ll be required to pay 2 percent of your income, or $325 per adult and about $163 per child.

Enrollment timelines

If you want your plan to start Jan. 1, 2014, buy insurance through Dec. 14. Open enrollment will be available through March 31. If you sign up in January or February, the insurance will kick in the following month.

How to apply

Anyone can apply for coverage online, by mail or in person. Visit www.healthcare.gov for more information or call 1-800-318-2596.

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