10/01/2013 06:06 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

How Our Health Care System Is Changing

If you or your loved ones have chronic health conditions ranging from asthma to cancer, you have probably been waiting with some anticipation for the Oct. 1 arrival of "Obamacare." Regardless of your political beliefs or affiliations, staying healthy and keeping fit are priorities for all Americans, making it important to understand the nation's new health care landscape.

One of the biggest changes from the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is that insurance companies can no longer deny coverage to Americans with pre-existing conditions. That's a game-changing benefit for millions of individuals and families who will find it easier and less expensive to see a doctor and get ongoing medical care.

If you're a self-employed aging boomer or GenXer who's paying a hefty premium for your health insurance, you'll want to explore your coverage options under the new federal- and state-run health care insurance marketplaces that are now open for business. Under the ACA, insurers have to compress the "spread" between the less-expensive premiums they charge younger adults and the steeper payments made by older Americans.

On the other hand, you may be happy with your current health insurance policy. In that case, there's no need to rush out and make a change, although you may want to review your policy and compare it with the new options available at some point. If you get insurance from your employer, it will probably be "business as usual," since the ACA requirements relating to large employers (with 50 more more full-time workers) don't kick in for another year.

If you have a doctor you see regularly, it's a good idea to schedule your next visit ASAP. That's because the old law of supply and demand applies to health care as well. Once the new individual insurance policies become effective on Jan. 1, 2014, more and more Americans will be able to afford a doctor's visit, increasing the demand for health care services. But the supply of physicians hasn't changed, so you may find that it takes longer to get an appointment.

These are among the many ways that implementation of the ACA is changing the U.S. health care system. Starting Oct. 1 and running through March 31, Americans will be able to sign up for new ACA-compliant policies directly from an insurer or through a state or federal marketplace.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), consumers will be able to choose from an average of 53 health plans in the marketplace. Premiums nationwide will also be around 16 percent lower than originally expected -- and financial assistance is available to lower-income individuals and families to make coverage more affordable.

Since health care reform is so complex, don't be afraid to ask for help. There are plenty of sources of information, including "navigators" in local communities, and the HHS websites and Take advantage of these resources to learn about your options so you can make smart insurance decisions that can improve the health of you, your family and your community.

For more by Geeta Nayyar, M.D., click here.

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