Washington (CNN) — Over the next few days, the drama of a potential government shutdown will collide with the promise of a new health insurance system known as Obamacare.
Here are answers to eight of the most pressing questions about both:
1. What happens on October 1 with Obamacare and the government shutdown?
First, the health insurance exchanges established by the Affordable Care Act — or Obamacare — will be open for business. Millions of uninsured Americans will be able to enroll in health plans before the law kicks in on January 1, 2014. Second, the U.S. government might “shut down” if lawmakers can’t agree to pass a funding bill that has attached to it a provision to defund Obamacare. These two events are linked. The reason both houses of Congress may not be able to agree on a funding bill — also known as a continuing resolution — is that some senators and representatives see this as their last chance to stop Obamacare. But that’s really where the link ends.
2. Does a government shutdown shut down Obamacare?
Not really. Most of the funding for Obamacare comes from new taxes and fees, from cost cuts to other programs like Medicare and other types of funding that carry on even in the event of a government shutdown. Congress’ research arm, the Congressional Research service, prepared a memo for Republican Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Oklahoma, that suggested an effort to use the government shutdown as leverage to force Democrats to delay implementing the law would not really work because the law will continue regardless of a shutdown. Plus, the law would still be in effect, so its many new requirements — everything from forcing insurance companies to cover anyone who wants insurance to forcing everyday Americans to carry health insurance or pay a fine — would still be in effect, too.
3. Do I have to sign up for a new health insurance plan on October 1 when open enrollment for Obamacare begins?
Maybe — Take this quick survey and we’ll find out:
A. Do you get health insurance from your employer?
If the answer is yes — and this is by far the No. 1 way Americans get health insurance — go on about your business. Obamacare doesn’t really affect you. At least not yet. A lot of people think that because of Obamacare, fewer companies will offer health insurance, particularly to low-paid workers and retirees. There is some evidence of this. These employers would have to pay a per-worker fine to the government, but it might be cheaper for them in the long run to pay this fine to the government rather than offer insurance. Other companies might cut hours for some workers, making them part-timers working fewer than 30 hours a week in order to avoid helping pay their health insurance. But it will take some years to see if it really comes to pass. However, if you get health insurance at work, you could probably drop that coverage and buy health insurance on the Obamacare exchanges. But you might not want to. You won’t qualify for any government help to buy your insurance and your employer wouldn’t be contributing any of the money it is now.