While Washington fusses and grandstands about health care reform, we as individuals can vote with our actions and dollars. In America's free market economy, our collective choices will significantly impact the nation's health care system.
Here are five actions each of us can take today, thanks to new benefits made available by the landmark Affordable Care Act.
1. Pick up the phone and schedule a free annual exam, and routine preventive tests for your age group (such as mammograms and colonoscopies). Under the ACA, preventive care is now free of charge or soon will be, without co-pays or deductibles. If you're on Medicare, these services were free as of Jan. 1. If you have private health insurance, they're either free now, or will be free at the start of your new health plan year. Check out more standard preventive services.
2. Insure yourself and all family members. Everyone is now eligible for health insurance. Having a pre-existing condition is no longer an excuse for insurance companies to deny coverage (can you believe how long our health care system has tried to exclude the sick?). If you have children under age 26, you can now insure them under your own plan. Your state should now offer a Pre-existing Condition Insurance Plan, and if it doesn't, you can use the federal government's "PCIP." Check out healthcare.gov for options.
3. Log onto Healthcare.gov and get informed about the ACA, health insurance options, your health care rights and quality comparisons of your own local hospitals. I found the website refreshingly user-friendly and helpful. For example, its rankings of my own local hospitals seemed accurate and reflective of my opinions as a physician in the know.
4. Appeal the unfair decisions of your insurance company. Under the ACA, it's now illegal for health insurance companies to deny or cancel coverage, but they can still legally deny care. The ACA gives us new ways to appeal. Again, check out your options.
5. Consider going shopping. By choosing our health insurance carefully, we the people will determine which insurance companies survive, and which go out of business. Because the ACA leaves health insurance and health care in the free market, our choices will collectively shape the future of American health care.