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Health Care Reform:

Health Insurance & Affordable Care Act

7 Surprising Things About the Affordable Care Act

4. Women get important new benefits, and they won't be charged more than men. continued...

Also coming in 2014 are big benefits for self-employed women. In the past, most insurance policies available to individuals, rather than through an employer, didn't cover maternity care. With insurance, women pay, on average, about $2,000 to $3,000 out-of-pocket to have a baby, according to a recent report by Childbirth Connection. Without insurance, the costs for a healthy birth can be several times that much, and the costs of a complicated pregnancy can run into the tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars.

In January, all insurance plans sold to individuals will have to cover maternity care. They'll also pick up the costs of breastfeeding supplies, like breast pumps.

"We were pleased and very excited to see these services included in the new law and robustly implemented," Birchfield Kennedy says. "I think it's going to be a game-changer for women to have these available under their health plan."

5. You can buy health insurance even if you're already sick. And you'll pay the same price for coverage as a healthy person who is the same age.

In the past, insurance companies could refuse coverage to people with health problems.

As part of the application process, companies combed through patients' medical records, looking for any sign that they might already be ill.

And they had a lot of leeway to define these pre-existing conditions, which could range from serious and ongoing problems like diabetes or cancer, to a long-forgotten ailment like an old sports injury.

Companies could deny coverage altogether or might've offered limited or more expensive policies that put coverage out of reach for many. A recent report from Families USA found that 1 out of 5 adults under age 65 has a pre-existing condition that could have disqualified them from health coverage under the old rules.

The new law gets rid of this rating system. Insurance companies must now cover everyone, regardless of their health. And they can't charge you more if you're sick or you were once treated for an illness or injury.

Prices will be based on three things: your age, where you live, and whether or not you smoke.

6. You’ll be hearing from your employer soon.

By Oct. 1, many people will get a letter from their employers. Companies that do at least $500,000 in business each year are required to send these letters.

The letters are to notify employees that their state Marketplaces offer new insurance options for people who qualify. They also have important information you'll need to help you figure out if you're eligible to buy insurance on your Marketplace. That includes whether your employer offers coverage and whether it’s offered to dependents. It also includes whether the plan meets the "minimum value standard" set by the law. A plan has to cover at least 60% of your health costs to meet the standard.

If the insurance at your job costs too much or doesn't cover enough of your health costs, you may be eligible to shop on your Marketplace and be eligible for financial assistance.

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