The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), often referred to as “Obamacare,” provides for a sweeping overhaul of the United States’ healthcare system. Although the PPACA constitutes one of the most controversial pieces of legislation enacted in decades, the United States Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the law in mid-2012.åÊ Therefore, like it or not, all Americans should become informed about the PPACA and the impact in will have on our daily lives. Here are highlights of some of the most significant changes that the law will introduce to the healthcare industry. Preexisting Conditions. Traditionally, health insurance companies have regulated who they insure by implementing standards that make certain applicants ineligible for coverage. For example, applicants suffering from serious health conditions might be denied coverage from multiple companies, thus essentially rendering them uninsurable. Drawing support from both sides of the debate, the PPACA addresses that issue head-on by prohibiting insurance companies from denying applicants for preexisting conditions like chronic illnesses or diseases. It also forbids insurers from dropping existing policies because of a particular health condition. Individual Mandate. Advocates of the PPACA argue that if we eliminate an insurance company’s right to deny coverage because of a preexisting condition, then the law necessarily has to require all citizens to obtain insurance. Otherwise, people would forgo insurance coverage until they developed a condition that required medical treatment, at which point they could obtain an insurance policy. In fact, if that scenario played out, it would likely cripple the insurance industry, as insurers would only receive premiums from individuals suffering from serious illnesses. Therefore, to prevent what many believe would be a catastrophic meltdown of the healthcare industry, the PPACA will require every individual in the United States to obtain a health insurance policy by 2014. As a result, people who currently have no health insurance coverage because they cannot afford it may be compelled to purchase a policy or pay a fine Ì± not without support, however, as the PPACA also addresses how to make healthcare affordable for low income individuals and their families. For those who already have health insurance, the impact of the individual mandate will likely take the form of at least somewhat higher taxes. Employer Mandate. Under one of the most controversial provisions of the PPACA, companies employing over 50 people will be forced to offer employees some type of health insurance option. If they refuse, employers must pay various penalties. Smaller companies, or those with fewer than 50 full-time employees, are not required to offer insurance but will receive tax-break incentives if they choose to. Opponents of the new law argue that employers will get around the mandate by slashing workers’ hours to lower the number of “full-time” employees they have on staff, thus reducing an employees’ income. Expanding Rights for Dependents. Prior to the enactment of the PPACA, individual insurance companies could determine the maximum age children could remain on their parents’ insurance policies. Under the new law, however, insurers must permit policyholders to keep children on their insurance plans until they reach 26 years old. That is true regardless of whether the child is single, married, in school, working, etc. Ending Lifetime Caps. Before the PPACA, employers typically put a limit on the amount of money they would pay toward an individual’s healthcare costs over the person’s lifetime. Congress made that policy illegal; now, an insurance company cannot refuse to pay for one’s healthcare costs because of the amount paid on the person’s behalf over time. Quality of Care. The jury is still out on how the new healthcare law will impact the quality of care provided by our nation’s doctors, nurses, and other healthcare providers. Advocates of the PPACA predict that mandating insurance coverage will result in doctors getting paid more reliably and not having to treat uninsured patients for free. Therefore, they argue that the PPACA will not detract from the financial incentive that sometimes attracts talented young people to the medical profession. Opponents of Obamacare disagree. They argue that the increase in bureaucracy and expanded government involvement in the healthcare industry will create more costs for doctors and patients alike, detract from the physician-patient relationship, and generally stifle innovation in the industry. Only time will tell how that all plays out. In reality, the PPACA will impact different people in different ways depending on their age, their health, their income, as well as other factors. Nevertheless, arming yourself with knowledge early on will help you take advantage of the aspects of the new law that benefit you and plan ahead for the parts that might not be as appealing. What do you think? Are you or someone you know a healthcare professional in some capacity with a strong opinion one way or another? John Egan is managing editor of the website insurancequotes.com, which assists consumers in increasing their knowledge about auto insurance, as well as health and life insurance.