U.S. first lady Michelle Obama speaks during a luncheon at The Studio Museum of Harlem Tuesday Sept. 24, 2013 in New York. The first lady hosted the event for spouses of chiefs of state and heads of government participating in the UN General Assembly. (AP Photo/Tina Fineberg)
It wasn’t that long ago that Barack and I were starting out as a newly married couple, trying to make our apartment in Chicago feel like a home and getting used to each other’s quirks and routines. And while we were happy and excited to be building a life together, like a lot of young couples, our finances weren’t exactly in great shape. We both had staggering student loan bills and pretty much every dollar of our paychecks was accounted for the minute it landed in our bank accounts.
But we were lucky – we both had jobs that gave us health insurance, so we knew that if one of us got sick or had an accident, our lives wouldn’t be turned upside down.
Today, a lot of folks aren’t so lucky, especially in the African-American community. And even those of us who have insurance probably know plenty of people who don’t – a cousin who can’t afford it, a brother who thinks he’s invincible and doesn’t need it, a friend who thinks it’s just too complicated to get it.
And for so many folks, not having insurance leads to so much anxiety and stress: the fear that one accident or illness will mean losing everything you have, and all those everyday worries – the pains you ignore, the symptoms you hope will just go away because you can’t afford to see a doctor.
No one should have to struggle like this. All Americans deserve the security and peace of mind of knowing that when they or their loved ones get sick, they can get the care they need. More than anything else, that’s really what the new health care law is all about.
The law is already helping millions of people across the country by letting young people stay on their parents’ insurance until they’re 26 years old and requiring insurance companies to cover preventive care – things like flu shots and mammograms. In addition, insurance companies are now required to cover the costs of birth control and they won’t be allowed to charge you more if you’re a woman (some insurance companies have been charging women 50 percent more than men for the same coverage – that will soon be illegal). Insurance companies will also no longer be able to discriminate against you if you have a pre-existing condition like asthma or diabetes.
If you don’t currently have insurance, there’s now a simple way to get coverage that fits your needs and your budget, no matter how much money you make. Starting on Oct. 1, you can go to the Health Insurance Marketplace and you’ll find a range of insurance plans all in one place, lined up side-by-side and explained in easy-to-understand language. You’ll be able to compare what each plan covers and how much each plan costs. You can then choose the plan that works best for your needs and your budget. It’s your health, made simple.
Depending on your income, you may be eligible for discounts on your monthly premiums; people with the lowest incomes may be eligible for free coverage. And the majority of people without insurance today will be able to find a plan for under $100 a month — less than what many folks pay for their cell phone bill.
No matter what plan you choose, you’ll have the security of knowing that if you don’t have a job, or if you lose your job, you’ll still have your health insurance.
So if you’ve wanted insurance, but you haven’t been able to afford it before now, be sure to go to HealthCare.gov and sign up – or call this toll free number: 1-800-318-2596. And once you get yourself signed up, make sure everyone you know signs up, too. Talk to your friends, your family, your colleagues, your fraternity brothers and sorority sisters, people at church. If they think they don’t need insurance, talk some sense into them – convince them that, contrary to what they might think, no one is invincible.
It might take a few tries before people really listen, but I promise you that when your loved ones finally get the care they need – and they have the security and peace of mind that comes with having insurance – they’ll thank you for staying on them about this. So whatever you do, don’t take no for an answer – your health and the health of the people you love is far too important.