It has been a long, bumpy road for the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama's signature initiative to provide affordable and accessible health insurance to all, but the time for its full implementation has finally arrived. Opening Tuesday are the state online marketplaces, where the uninsured can shop for comprehensive coverage, many with generous federal subsidies. If the process is confusing, it will get easier over time and people should not lose sight of the bigger picture. The law will bring health coverage to tens of millions of uninsured Americans, and it will raise the quality of coverage and medical security for virtually everyone.
Floridians with questions on plan specifics and rates will have their answers Tuesday when the information becomes available at the federal website healthcare.gov. In Florida, the average monthly premium for a "silver" level plan is slightly lower than the national average at $304 before any federal subsidies. That is a nice surprise after the Florida Legislature stripped authority from the state's insurance regulator to police health insurance rates for the next two years. Market competition is working. Unlike some other states where few insurers are in the marketplace, many Floridians will be able to choose from about 100 health plans, nearly twice the national average.
As with any major government program, it will take time for the kinks to be worked out. Signing up for Medicare Part D's drug coverage was also complex. This should have been easier. But Florida left it to the federal government to build its state exchange, resulting in information delays. There also may be fewer navigators — sign-up helpers — available in less convenient locations in Florida because of the roadblocks the state put in place.
The law's opponents have launched a corrosive ad campaign to convince young adults not to sign up for health coverage. Their advice promotes irresponsibility and free-rider behavior — exactly what conservatives claim to stand against. Young adults without insurance will still receive health care after a car accident or sudden illness. But the cost of that care will be shifted to the insured and taxpayers. Going without insurance and paying the modest annual tax penalty makes it less likely that young people will see a doctor regularly to get preventive care or catch a serious health problem early.
Tuesday should be a celebratory day in Florida with so many of the state's 3.8 million uninsured finally able to sign up for comprehensive, affordable coverage that would kick in next year. There will be rough spots, but it will be worth the trouble. Americans will no longer be shackled to their jobs for the health insurance, and this could unleash new entrepreneurial vigor into the economy. America also is a more compassionate nation, where more families will have access to regular medical care and people will no longer have to worry that bankruptcy looms if they get sick. That alone is transformational change for the better.