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TIM JOHNSON: New year, new health care benefits

By Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D.

As millions of Americans celebrated the New Year by toasting with friends and family and making resolutions, Jan. 1 ushered in a new era in our nation’s health care system.

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The Affordable Care Act is now delivering new protections and opportunities to help South Dakotans improve their health and well-being through the security of affordable health insurance coverage.

Prior to health reform, more than 345,000 South Dakotans with pre-existing conditions, like asthma or diabetes, were either unable to obtain health insurance on the individual market, required to pay more because they were sick or forced to accept plans that did not provide adequate coverage.

Folks could have their health coverage discontinued when they needed it the most, and far too many Americans lived in fear of the astronomical cost of an unexpected health care emergency.

As of Jan. 1, all of this changed. Individuals are now able to obtain meaningful, affordable health insurance through new Health Insurance Marketplaces without being denied coverage or charged more for having a pre-existing condition. Limits on coverage for essential health benefits are a now thing of the past, providing peace of mind for millions of Americans.

In the initial months of the marketplace open enrollment period, I heard from many constituents who were frustrated with the enrollment process on Heidi, a resident of Aberdeen, was met with the same initial setbacks that many South Dakotans faced.

After a little persistence, however, Heidi successfully enrolled in a plan that allows her to keep her doctor, saves her nearly $100 on her monthly premium, has a $500 deductible instead of a $5,000 deductible and offers better coverage than her previous plan.

Heidi no longer lives with the fear that her next doctor’s visit will send her deeper into debt, and is putting the money she’s saving toward paying past medical bills. While obtaining health insurance was not as seamless as it should have been, health reform is providing Heidi and many like her with the security that comes with having comprehensive, affordable health insurance coverage.

The Affordable Care Act is a first step in providing the security of health insurance to millions more Americans and fixing a system that has failed far too many. While the road ahead is sure to hold a few more bumps, it is important to remember the 2.2 million people, like Heidi, who have been able to enroll in a private plan on the marketplace, the 3.9 million individuals deemed eligible for Medicaid coverage and the three million young adults who have maintained coverage through their parents’ plans because of the law.

I encourage you to talk to your family and friends about the new coverage options available. Whether you support the law or not, health reform provides important opportunities to improve the health of our friends, neighbors and communities. While you may have coverage, you might be surprised by the number of people you know who do not.

As the March 31 open enrollment deadline approaches, millions more people will be able to enroll in coverage. Take some time to explore the marketplace plan options available by visiting, contacting the call center at 1-800-318-2596 or finding a local assister by visiting