What students should know about 'Obamacare'

With the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as "Obamacare," scheduled to initiate on Jan. 1, 2014, it is still uncertain what the new health care system will bring to students and people everywhere. The ACA is a law mandated by the U.S. government that requires every citizen to acquire health care insurance by the beginning of the new year.

According to the American Assoiation of Retired Persons, a few of the benefits included with the ACA would be allowing Americans to stay on their parents' insurance plan until the age of 26, forbidding insurance companies to deny coverage to Americans who have pre-existing conditions, and the elimination of the lifetime limit, allowing patients to stay covered for indefinite injuries or illnesses.

While the enrollment period has been active since Oct. 1, some students are left wondering whether they are required to enroll or face being penalized.

The tax penalty for citizens who are uninsured is up to $95 per adult and $47.50 per child, or one percent of a person's taxable income, depending on which is greater, according to the government's insurance marketplace official website, healthcare.gov.

The penalty is also set to rise every year thereafter, up to $695 yearly by 2016.

Gloria Lopez, coordinator of health services at Santa Monica College, says that it is mandatory that every U.S. citizen, including students, enroll or receive the penalty.

"My concern is that students don't understand that they must sign up because sometimes young people don't think that they need insurance, but we all are required to have insurance," says Lopez.

Although coverage begins early next year, the enrollment period began on Oct. 1 and is set to continue until March 31, 2014, according to healthcare.gov. If citizens do not enroll, they will have to wait for the next annual insurance exchange, barring any exemptions.

Some of the exemptions to the law and penalty include those who are uninsured for less than three months of the year, incarcerated individuals, citizens whose income is officially deemed too low, and those facing specified hardships. Students who do not fall into exemptions are required to enroll in a plan or receive penalty.

"[It] shouldn't affect health services at SMC because health services is a state-required fee, whereas the Affordable Care Act is a national law."

She also says that the health services department is working with Westside Family Health Center to educate students and the community at large about the benefits of health insurance and why it is important to apply.

In addition, the health fee at SMC will not be affected by the ACA, as it is up to the district to determine the cost for health services at the given school, Lopez says.

As far as being mandated to enroll into a health care plan, some students seem to have no issue with "Obamacare" and its policies.

"I think health insurance is the same thing as having car insurance," says Vakas Salim, a biology major at SMC. "I think every single person should have insurance because obviously there are benefits to it and they need to be secured."

Salim feels that everyone in America should have health insurance in case of a major injury or health crisis. for those who cannot afford the cost for coverage of more expensive treatment for a major injury.

"The only reason people are being penalized is so that people have [health insurance]; that way they can have care," says Salim.

SMC student Mihran Karaguezian fully supports the new law. He thinks it is the best thing Obama has done during his presidency.

Karaguezian believes that more people would support the system if it were not mandated, but he does not see a reason not to enroll in it. "If it benefits you, why wouldn't you do it in the first place?" he says.

Jenneil Magpantay, a health care policy major at SMC, says she feels it would benefit citizens much more than it would hurt them, favoring the fact that students can stay on their parents' health care plan until the age of 26.

She also thinks that with insurance companies now required to cover anyone with pre-existing conditions, more individuals will be able to enjoy the equality that the ACA brings.

But while there is a large share of support for health care reform, "Obamacare" is not without its naysayers.

SMC student Genevieve Aviles says that the ACA will force workers into unemployment due to companies' inability to afford the new regulations of having to provide certain benefits for each of their employees.

One standout topic that citizens have taken issue with over recent weeks has been the functionality of healthcare.gov.

According to the Huffington Post, the problems with the website came down to its inability to allow applicants to reach the final steps of enrollment. As an applicant is finalizing his or her enrollment, error messages and popups have kept many applicants from finishing the application process.

"It was totally messed up," says SMC student Shaze Williams. "It kept saying 'temporarily unavailable,' or 'username taken.'"

President Barack Obama spoke on Monday regarding the website's issues, stating that the site's problems will be solved.

"Nobody's madder than me about the website not working as well as it should, which means it's going to get fixed," Obama said. Howard Kim, a finance major at SMC, says that in the end, the effects "Obamacare" might have on the country will not matter to him as an increased country debt is inevitable. "Regardless, everyone is going to overuse the benefits that they can get from Obamacare, and its definitely going to rack up the deficit," says Kim. "But it doesn't matter anymore because the debt is already so high up."

Workshops on how to enroll into a health care plan are currently being offered at SMC with future dates including Oct. 22, Nov. 5, Nov. 19 and Dec. 5, from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. inside SMC's Math Complex, Room 6.