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Health Care Reform:

Health Insurance & Affordable Care Act

As the debate rages over 'Obamacare,' here's a look at what the changes will mean.

Who Gets Covered Under Health Reform?

What About Preexisting Conditions?

In the past, many people who have tried to buy their own health insurance on the open market have been dealt disappointment: Based on something in their past medical history, the insurance company declined to cover them.

In some cases, these so-called "preexisting conditions" are chronic diseases that need lifelong care, like diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, allergies, or asthma.

In other instances, though, preexisting conditions don't seem quite as serious. They can be anything from a past bout of sinusitis to an old sports injury.

People deemed to have a preexisting condition can sometimes buy health insurance, but any doctor's visit related to the condition may not be covered under the plan they are offered.

The ACA blocks insurance companies from denying anyone coverage on the basis of a preexisting condition, and it prevents insurance companies from charging sick people more.

"That goes away in 2014. Everybody's premiums will be the same," says Sara Collins, PhD, vice president for Affordable Health Insurance at the Commonwealth Fund.

In fact, it's already gone away. If you need health insurance, but you've been turned down because of a preexisting condition, the ACA has already established insurance plans that will cover you.

As long as you can prove that an insurance company has denied you coverage, and that you've been uninsured for at least six months, you can apply for coverage through a high-risk pool, which is also called a preexisting condition insurance plan, or PCIP.

The plan premiums vary by age and state. You can find out how much a plan would cost by visiting the federal department of health and human services at HHS.gov. Those plans will be phased out after the law takes effect in 2014.

Jeff Levine contributed to this article.

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