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What Is Obamacare? A Legal Overview

By Brett Snider, Esq. | Last updated on

What is Obamacare, legally speaking? With open enrollment set to begin October 1, Obamacare is going to be a big part of the nation's health care landscape for the foreseeable future, so it just makes good sense to know what it entails.

Obamacare, also known as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, was a bill that was signed into law in 2010. It affects individuals, most businesses, and health insurance companies.

For your reference, here is a general legal overview of all things Obamacare.

Understanding Obamacare


About This Series: From the Editor

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Obamacare: The Bill

President Barack Obama signed the Affordable Care Act (also known as the ACA) into law on March 23, 2010, after months of debate in both houses of Congress. Republican opponents referred to it as "Obamacare"; President Obama himself now also uses the term when describing the law.

Regardless of what it is called unofficially, the bill itself is 906 pages of comprehensive change to health care policy and law. Whether you support Obamacare or not, the bill is the result of years of work in Congress from both sides of the aisle.

Obamacare: The Law

The 906-page law spells out changes to various parts of the United States Code, including Title 26 (the Internal Revenue Code) and Title 42 (dealing with Public Health and Welfare).

Most notably, Obamacare creates a new chapter in Title 42, entitled "Quality, Affordable Health Care for All Americans." That chapter includes the controversial "individual mandate," which requires individuals to buy health insurance.

Obamacare opponents challenged parts of the law in court. But in June 2012, a divided U.S. Supreme Court upheld Obamacare as constitutional, including the individual mandate.

Obamacare: The Mandates

Obamacare imposes numerous changes to the way Americans approach health care decisions, but arguably two of the biggest are the individual and employer mandates.

The "employer mandate" requires businesses with 50 or more full-time employees to provide a minimum level of health coverage or pay a penalty. To help businesses with this transition, the employer mandate has been delayed until 2015.

The "individual mandate" requires each individual to be covered under a minimum level of health insurance coverage by 2014, with those who remain uninsured facing tax penalties.

To help businesses and individuals choose a plan that best fits their needs, Obamacare also sets up "health insurance exchanges" where you can compare plans before you sign up. Again, the open enrollment period begins October 1.

Obamacare: Understanding the Requirements

So what does this all mean for you? It depends on your particular situation (for example, whether or not you're already insured, and whether your employer has you covered).

To help you better understand your options under Obamacare, look for more clear, concise explanations in our "Understanding Obamacare" series. Tomorrow, we'll explain what health insurance exchanges are and how to use them.

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