16 Obamacare Myths & Misunderstandings

Six years after it was signed into law, "Obamacare" continues to spawn myths and misinformation, as the following 16 misconceptions prove.

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Although the Affordable Care Act--also known as the ACA or "Obamacare"--was signed into law just over five years ago, and its first enrollment period kicked off in 2013, a number of myths and misunderstandings continue to hound this controversial and often confusing piece of legislation.

These misconceptions exist and persist for all sorts of reasons, of course. One of them, according to Vincent Plymell, communications manager for the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies’ Division of Insurance, is that "health insurance is a touchy, emotional issue for many. It intertwines a person's health and finances, both [of which are] very personal subjects." Plus, he adds, it often "combines these things with work--for those with employer-based insurance--and families."

Also responsible for many of the misconceptions that are mentioned below is the fact that "health costs and the cost of health insurance have been rising for years," Plymell says.

Add to that all of the "interconnected reasons, [like] the economy, society, medical practice patterns, agricultural policies, business policies, working environments, [and] rural versus urban issues," and you've got a situation that's so complicated that, as Plymell puts it, "it's easier to point at the ACA as the scapegoat for many problems in the health care industry."

For the record, Plymell considers the following to be the three biggest misunderstandings currently intertwined with this legislation:

  • The ACA is eliminating all plans
  • It's also driving up the costs of health insurance for fewer benefits (or less coverage)
  • Everyone has to change insurance plans as a result of Obamacare

While you can keep your current plan, you're also free to compare health insurance plans and pick the one with the coverage you need. You may discover that switching to a carrier with lower rates can save you a bundle without sacrificing quality.

Here are some other common myths and misconceptions about the Affordable Care Act:

Myth: The law is keeping people who work part-time jobs from finding full-time employment

Truth: This myth has been making the rounds for a couple of years, and it seemingly got its start when the Republican National Committee stated that over 8 million Americans couldn't find full-time work because of the then-new healthcare law. 

According to FactCheck.org, that assertion wasn't true then, and it doesn't appear to be true now. Still, anecdotal evidence has popped up in recent years that suggests some employers—although how many isn't clear—may have reduced the hours of their part-time staffers in order to keep them from working more than 30 hours per week.

Myth: The ACA is going to prompt employers to hire fewer people moving forward

Truth: A popular variation on this particular myth, which has been around since "Obamacare" was signed into law, is that the legislation will cause many Americans—usually stated in the millions--to lose their jobs.

This claim originated with a 2010 report from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) that suggested the law would have a “small” impact on the U.S. job market, although it got a second or even third wind after another CBO report, released last year, said that more than two million people will decide not to work, or will decide to work less, because of the Affordable Care Act. This decline has since been misconstrued and misreported in various circles to be the result of employers’ decisions.

Myth: The Affordable Care Act doesn't allow people to choose their doctors, or it doesn't allow them to continue to see the doctors they've been going to for years

Truth: This myth likely was born out of the fear, first felt before the act was signed into law, that the government was going to "take over" the U.S. healthcare system.

It should be clear by now, a couple of years after its implementation, that the ACA isn't a government-run system—in that the government doesn't actually provide insurance coverage to anyone (it acts as more of a middle man), and as a result it doesn't decide which doctors people can and can't see.

On a related note, though, the government also can't promise anyone that they will, without a doubt, be able to keep their current, preferred plans (and, by association, their preferred physicians), as employers are free to reconfigure their coverage options under the ACA just as they could before it became the law of the land.

Myth: The ACA requires that microchips be implanted into all patients

Truth: Not only doesn't the Affordable Care Act mandate that everybody have microchips injected into various parts of their bodies, but it also doesn't mandate that devices of any kind be implanted into those who take advantage of the federal or state health insurance exchanges.

According to FactCheck.org, this misunderstanding probably came about because of a proposed provision—which wasn't included in the bill that was signed into law in 2010—that would have set up registry for certain kinds of implantable medical devices like artificial heart valves and cerebral shunts.

Myth: Members of Congress are exempt from Obamacare's requirements

Truth: Actually, the above is pretty much the opposite of reality, as U.S. lawmakers are both required to have health insurance and to buy that insurance through the government's "exchanges"--just like everyone else.

Myth: All non-U.S. citizens, whether they're legal or illegal, are being provided with free healthcare services as a part of this law

Truth: First of all, the Affordable Care Act doesn't provide free healthcare to anyone, regardless of whether or not they're legal or illegal residents of the United States.

Second, although some actual U.S. citizens can gain access to subsidies via the government's exchanges, the same is not true for illegal immigrants. Not only that, but the latter group can't even use those same sites to shop for health insurance.

Myth: Thanks to the ACA, health insurance premiums have increased more slowly than at any other time in the last 50 years

Truth: This myth has been supported and spread by President Obama himself, so its persistence probably shouldn't be all that surprising.

As for whether his claim is factual or not, Politifact.com, for one, suggests it's not. Or at least it isn't completely factual. Although available data shows that overall healthcare costs in the United States have slowed down, that isn't due to the Affordable Care Act alone. Also, there's no evidence that premium increases (those related to health insurance, at least) currently are at a 50-year low.

Myth: Obamacare forces Americans to consent to home inspections

Truth: Rest assured, no one related to the U.S. government will be beating on your front door in the name of the Affordable Care Act anytime soon. 

If you live in one of 46 states, you're an expectant or new parent, and you meet certain requirements, though, you could be visited by a nurse (who will offer up some prenatal advice) as part of a program administered by the Health Resources and Services Administration and the Administration for Children and Families.

This program, which is voluntary and allows participants to opt out at any time, appears to be what prompted this misunderstanding.

Myth: The Affordable Care Act doesn't cover cancer treatments after you reach a certain age

Truth: The existence of this myth is a bit strange considering the healthcare law basically leaves the Medicare program alone. Regardless, there's no basis for it.

As pointed out by Politifact.com, Medicare still covers cancer treatments for a certain portion of this country's 65-and-over population (as well as some younger people with disabilities), just as it has for decades.

Myth: The ACA cuts benefits for military families and retirees

Truth: No, it does not. As was the case with Medicare, the ACA pretty much ignores TRICARE--which provides health coverage to active duty members of the military, as well as retirees, survivors, and dependents. As a result, that program's beneficiaries haven't seen any changes to the amounts or kinds of coverage they receive.

Myth: Muslims are exempted from the law's requirement to obtain coverage

Truth: Actually, a small subset of the population is exempted from this noteworthy ACA requirement, but people of the Muslim faith aren't included in it.

Instead, the law's "religious conscience exemption" is aimed at groups like the Old Order Amish that disavow all forms of insurance, according to both FactCheck.org and Politifact.com.

Myth: The ACA is being forced on small businesses

Truth: It depends on how you define small business. Businesses with more than 50 full-time employees (FTEs) are required by the Affordable Care Act to either offer health coverage to their workers, or pay a fine. However, businesses with fewer than 50 full-time employees are exempt from this provision.

It also can't really be said that small employers are being forced to use the insurance exchanges that have been mentioned throughout this article. After all, those businesses are free to stick with purchasing whatever plans they want to offer to their staffers directly through an insurance company, or they can turn to the government's Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP).

Myth: Non-compliance penalties related to Obamacare are going to cripple employers of all sizes

Truth: This isn't an easy myth to shoot down or confirm based on whether it's true or not, because, at the time of this writing, the penalties are not in effect.

However, the "employer mandate" component of the law, which requires companies with more than 50 FTEs to offer at least a minimum amount of health coverage to a certain portion of their staff or pay a penalty, could hurt some of these businesses once it's in full effect next year.

At that time, businesses with more than 50 FTEs who fail to provide an adequate amount of health coverage will face annual fines of $2,000 or more per FTE (although the first 30 such employees are excluded from the calculation).

Myth: When filling out their applications for federal subsidies, people can lie about their income without worrying about being caught

Truth: Here's another misunderstanding that has been around for some time now. According to FactCheck.org, though, the government does attempt to verify the income information that's listed on applications for federal subsidies that are related to the Affordable Care Act.

In fact, it compares what's included on these applications with information pulled from a person's previous tax returns and other such sources.

Myth: Even if you have Medicare, you'll still need to buy more insurance or different kinds of insurance if you don't want to run afoul of the Affordable Care Act

Truth: A lot of people have taken the "individual mandate" portion of this law to mean that they have to buy health insurance through the government-operated exchanges even if they're already covered by Medicare.

Thankfully for them, that isn't the case. So, if you currently make use of Medicare and you have no complaints about the coverage it offers, there's no need for you to purchase additional coverage.

Myth: People have to wait longer to see their doctors because of this law

Truth: This myth seems to be the result of some of the early "scare tactics" that were used by the Affordable Care Act's opponents before it signed into law.

Regardless of what prompted the creation of this misunderstanding, though, there's no evidence to suggest that your average American now has to wait longer to see a physician than he or she did a couple of years ago.

If anything, these wait times should improve to some extent in the following years, as a number of the ACA's provisions specifically address improving "quality of care" in various ways.

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