Today is a momentous day in U.S. history, and a defining moment in our nation's health transformation. The Health Insurance Marketplace has officially opened for business, allowing Americans and small businesses in every state to obtain personalized health coverage to fit their individual, family or employees' needs.
This is not tired rhetoric; the marketplace and the coming Medicaid expansions are expected to expand health coverage to 25 million uninsured Americans within 10 years and allow even more to lower their health costs. One of the crown jewels of the Affordable Care Act, the marketplace brings us -- especially many of the people who need it most -- the health services necessary to prevent sickness, live longer and healthier, and do so at better prices than before.
There's one major barrier: Most of us still don't understand how what the marketplace is, and how to use it. It's absolutely critical that the public learns by March 31, the last day that consumers can sign up for marketplace coverage this year.
Right now on Healthcare.gov and Cuicadodesalud.gov, you can get or change health insurance that will go into effect as early as Jan. 1. All it takes is answering a few questions online, by phone or in person, no matter who you are or where you live. Help is available via live chat on the marketplace websites, or 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 1-800-318-2596, with responders who can answer any questions you have.
But it's up to us, collectively, to make sure this information reaches all Americans. Along with the ACA's Prevention and Public Health Fund -- the first-ever national investment in prevention, which has already saved lives and health care dollars -- the marketplace brings greater equity to our health, especially for the 44,000 people who die every year solely because they don't have health insurance.
It's our duty, as health professionals and community leaders, to make the marketplace understandable and accessible to all Americans. We can do this by helping people submit the application, directing them to the marketplace website or taking them in-person to enrollment locations, which are searchable at localhelp.healthcare.gov by city, state or ZIP code. APHA has created a short guide, "The Affordable Care Act's Health Insurance Marketplace: Consumer Education Resources for Public Health Practitioners" to help those who want to help others.
We have six months to get this done. Let's take advantage of this unprecedented opportunity to bring better health and preventive care to our communities, our families, our businesses and ourselves, starting today.
Georges Benjamin, MD, is executive director of the American Public Health Association.
Follow Dr. Georges C. Benjamin on Twitter: www.twitter.com/publichealth