Prior to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, enrollment in health insurance plans was entirely voluntary. Employers and their employees selected plans based on total cost-to-benefit ratio and many small business owners declined to provide any coverage whatsoever. There were drawbacks to this healthcare industry standard that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is meant to address. First, when uninsured individuals need healthcare, the cost must be borne by the rest of the taxpaying population. Inflated costs appear in health insurance fees, the price of medical services, and hospital procedures in order to compensate for the money the uninsured are not paying. The Affordable Care Act takes a step toward universal healthcare in that everyone without health insurance coverage will have to either enroll in a plan or pay a penalty (1% of your total income or $95, whichever is higher) to opt out. Also, the costs incurred by the uninsured for services rendered will no longer be borne by other taxpayers. Individuals will be fully liable for their own expenses, which may create serious long-term debt problems for uninsured individuals.
All of these changes are predicated upon the importance of health insurance. Simply put, individuals need health insurance coverage, and the Affordable Care Act makes coverage more accessible to a greater number of people by mandating that small business owners with more than 50 full-time employees must provide some form of health insurance coverage to their workforce. Individual citizens typically do not have pools of credit deep enough to finance serious medical procedures, so some form of health insurance is necessary to prevent long-term (or even permanent) debt. The Affordable Care Act holds individual citizens responsible by prompting them to learn more about their own healthcare or face a fine. Employers are also obligated to provide health insurance that does not discriminate based on pre-existing conditions.
Going without health insurance is simply no longer a viable option for employers or their employees. The risks and costs of not having coverage when it is needed far outweigh the costs of the ACA insurance packages. With these widespread changes in the healthcare industry, we may see ancillary effects in the workplace geared toward promoting a preventative lifestyle. Exercise, healthy dieting, and proper weight management all serve to vastly reduce the risk for many chronic illnesses (e.g. adult-onset diabetes, high blood pressure, etc.). Employers may choose to initiate preventative lifestyle choice seminars for their employees, as well as applying for federal assistance based on the health of the staff. Potentially, the healthcare reform prompted by the ACA could shift the overall health of the population in a very positive direction.