|BROWNSVILLE, September 23 - During my lifetime, I've seen many improvements come to the Rio Grande Valley, where I was born and raised. From the efforts to electrify the most rural parts of South Texas to the construction of Interstate 37 to connect South Texas to Central Texas, we've seen much positive change in recent decades.
But now there's a new change coming, starting October 1, and its long-term impact on South Texans and our familias could be more significant than any other recent change.
What is it? It's the Affordable Care Act, or "Obamacare," and despite some pundits who would have you believe otherwise, it's the law of the land. However you vote and whatever your political beliefs, this law could have an impact on your family. It's important to know what it means to everyone from your abuela to the youngest generation.
Unfortunately, that's no easy task. It could take days to read the 900-page law, and even then it's filled with complex legal and policy jargon.
Fortunately, you don't have to understand it all on your own. There are plenty of reputable groups who can help. For quick and straightforward answers about the health law, AARP has developed an interactive website, HealthLawAnswers.org. (MiLeydeSalud.org en espaņol.) After a few quick questions, you'll get a customized report about what the changes mean to your family and what new options you have for health care and health care coverage.
Now you may be asking: What does the new health law do for South Texans?
Some of the changes it's bringing are pretty notable. It has already helped folks across South Texas, sometimes without them even knowing. If you received a refund check from your insurance company this year or last year, that could have been a result a measure in the new law requiring insurers to spend at least 80 percent of premiums on health care costs. If you now have your young adult children under age 26 on your insurance plan, that could have been a result of the law.
It's not about younger or older. The Affordable Care Act is helping families and Americans of all ages.
What will it do for you? That depends on all sorts of factors, like your income level and family situation as well as your current health and health insurance status. It will also vary depending on what sort of action you choose to take or not take. To take advantage of some of the changes, you'll need to take clear action.
One example of that is the new health insurance marketplace, which opens October 1. If you don't get insurance through your job or through Medicare, you can use this marketplace. It will be a tool at your disposal to easily compare your health plan options online, plus many low- and middle-income Americans will be able to get financial assistance. Insurance plans purchased through the marketplace will take effect on January 1.
Do you have Medicare for your health coverage? You don't need to do anything with the marketplace. Instead, your Medicare open enrollment period will take place, just like in previous years, starting on October 15 and ending on December 7.
If this is overwhelming, don't worry. There are groups throughout Texas, like the United Way and the National Urban League, that are standing by to be official "navigators" and help families make sense of all the options available in the marketplace.
Plus AARP will continue to be a resource for older South Texans and their families who want to know what the current--and coming--changes to health care mean for them. We also have trained speakers available to talk to community and church groups.
In the coming months and years, as these newest improvements roll out to South Texas, more people will have quality health insurance and more families will be able to afford to go to the doctor. Who knows? In a few decades, it could just be one more improvement that we all happily take for granted.
Ollie Besteiro, a native of the Rio Grande Valley, is president of AARP Texas and leads AARP Texas' all-volunteer executive council. The above column first appeared in the Brownsville Herald.