2019 Hero ACAExplainer 8.5.19 Affordable Care Act

What does the Affordable Care Act do?

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case challenging the Affordable Care Act (ACA), brought by 21 states. The challenge seeks to void the entire 2010 health reform law, often called “Obamacare,” because Congress eliminated the tax penalty on those without coverage that is part of the law’s “individual mandate.”

Yet the health reform law always has been much more than a mandate—or the online marketplaces that have become so familiar to millions of Americans. 

Read the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association's friend-of-the-court brief on the case.

Most public discussion about the ACA has focused on individuals who purchase coverage on their own, often by using state or federally-run “exchanges” like Healthcare.gov.  Many of the law’s most important provisions, like the one that guarantees those with pre-existing conditions can’t be denied coverage or charged more because of their health status, apply to policies purchased by individuals. So is the guarantee of a broad range of essential health benefits, including hospital and emergency care, maternity and newborn coverage, prescription drug benefits and mental health coverage.

These far-reaching changes transformed the individual health insurance market.

In fact, the ACA is a far-reaching law that impacts people no matter how they get coverage—through their employers and through government programs such as Medicare and Medicaid. A broad range of enhanced benefits, strengthened consumer protections and improvements in the way medical care is delivered are all part of the Affordable Care Act.

Here are some key elements of the law:


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