Obamacare enrollment: What older Americans need to know

The marketing blitz for the launch of Obamacare is underway, with ad campaigns in many states featuring actors, musicians and athletes urging people to sign up for the health insurance program. A big federal ad campaign will follow in September.

Marketing and communication might serve as an antidote to the confusion and antipathy that persists about the Affordable Care Act (ACA), especially among older Americans. Forty-nine percent of people over age 65 disapprove of the law, compared with just 37 percent of 18-29-year olds, according to the Pew Research Center.

What will Obamacare really mean for older Americans? The answer depends on your age. If you’re over 65, you’re eligible for Medicare – and that means the ACA touches you in modest but positive ways. But the  ACA will have a profound impact on people over age 50 who are too young for Medicare, and don’t have access to group health insurance through an employer. If you’re in that group, the ACA requires that you get covered or pay a penalty.

The law also makes it much easier to get coverage, because it prohibits insurers from turning away applicants with pre-existing conditions – a change that is especially important to older people, who are more likely to have health problems.

Starting October 1st, you’ll be able to shop for much more robust policies in online insurance exchanges. This first open enrollment will run through the end of April 2014, with coverage starting in January. If you’re among those already firing up your computers, check out my column today at Reuters Money for key shopping tips.