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What Obamacare Means For The Self-Employed, The Startup Worker, The Freelancer

The Affordable Care Act kicks in today, and President Obama's shake-up of the system could well mean a change in the risks you take in your professional career. Here's why.

[Image: Flickr user Puuikibeach]

Today is the first day of what could be a long and happy life for Obamacare, the president's stab at making cheaper health care available to more people. It's a policy that may mean big changes for you—especially those of you who are freelancers, self-employed, or work for a startup. Medical insurance has long been a contentious issue and can easily determine which path a person takes in his or her professional life—I mean, if you had a partner and three children, you might feel more comfortable keeping your job of 10 years with a generous family health policy, rather than jumping ship to work on that startup. Three years ago, I wrote about the issues facing freelancers and those who have swung between self-employment and salaried posts. None of them were particularly happy with the situation. So, will the changes to the health system help them?

If you buy your own health insurance

You can now go through the Health Insurance Marketplace to find the best plan for you. You might find you are eligible for a little bit of help from the government—it's worth using this subsidy calculator to find out. At the end of this year, all medical insurers will be forced to cover their policyholders for emergency treatment, maternity care, and hospitalization. Also included are prescription drug costs, rehab services, lab services, pediatric services, and all sorts of other things that people often find a drain on their income.

If you're uninsured

You need to sign up for today's changes under the law and buy insurance. If not, you may be penalized via tax penalties or by a fine—which will increase, year by year. (You too may be eligible for a subsidy.) Pick a plan—it's worth remembering this: The more you pay up front, the less you pay monthly. This could also mean a wider pick of health care providers. You may also be eligible for either Medicaid or Medicare.(Veterans are also covered under the new legislation.)

If someone else deals with your health insurance

If you're covered by your parents' health care plan, you need do nothing until you hit 26 years of age. Then you're on your own, buddy. And if you're covered by your spouse's plan, then you need him or her to see if the changes will affect you, as the Affordable Care Act has made many insurers change their policy toward their members' better halves. The president's changes to the health care system have paved the way for all sorts of new systems and innovation in the sector. Here's Oscar, a health care startup with an impressive, tech-savvy bunch of employees, including former Googlers, and Microsoft and Tumblr employees. It launches at the start of next year in New York under the aegis of Joshua Kushner. And there's one aimed at startups needing to offer their workers some sort of health security—probably just as much to get talent to come and work for them as for altruistic reasons. StartupInsurance is an offshoot of the Young Entrepreneur Council and will make a fee from each client it refers to the health care providers.

There is no doubt that the new legislation will help the needier and those freelancers who couldn't find an insurer to cover them without shelling out a small fortune each month. Perhaps Pete, who I interviewed three years ago, might find life a bit easier. "I was holding out for a decent plan so that I could have insurance, but the public option was going to be helpful. But now I don't even know what the plan has in it." Do you now?

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