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Health care overhaul taking root in divided nation

Associated Press | 3/22/2011, 6:28 p.m.

WASHINGTON - A year after President Barack Obama signed his health care overhaul, the law remains so divisive that Americans can’t even agree on what to call it. Even so, it is taking root in the land.

Whether it grows is another matter.

Polls show that about 1 in 8 Americans believe they have been personally helped already, well before the main push to cover the uninsured scheduled for 2014.

Still, issues of affordability and complexity guarantee ongoing problems, even if the Supreme Court upholds the landmark legislation that made health insurance both a right and a responsibility.

Supporters call it the Affordable Care Act, a shortened version of the official title Democrats gave their massive bill. It may be better known as “Obamacare,” the epithet used by Republicans seeking its demise.

While Obama returns from Latin America on the signing anniversary Wednesday, administration officials will fan out across the country. Community commemorations that start Monday come as the health care battle moves to the states. Even states suing to nullify the law’s requirement that most Americans carry health insurance are proceeding with building blocks of the new system.

Families, small businesses and seniors are starting to feel the impact of dozens of insurance changes already in place. Interviews with people affected reveal it’s not always clear-cut.

In small-town Circleville, N.Y., Patti Schley says the law has made a dramatic difference.

Her daughter Megan, 23, was out of college, going without insurance as she tried to launch a wedding photography business. Last summer Megan started getting sick and rapidly lost weight. Doctors diagnosed a serious digestive system disorder that would make her uninsurable.

But her parents were able to get her into a high-risk insurance pool created under the law, and this year Megan signed up for her father’s workplace plan, under a provision extending coverage for adult children up to age 26.

“As a mother of a sick child, you are concerned whether your kid is 4 or 24,” said Schley, an office administrator. “We couldn’t wait for this to kick in.”

Things are working out for the Schleys, but the high-risk pools that provided the initial lifeline for Megan are faltering. Nationally, the latest count shows fewer than 12,500 people signed up, mainly because of waiting periods and high premiums.

Another mom with an uninsured daughter ran into a Catch-22 that illustrates the law’s complexity.

Mary Thompson of Overland Park, Kan., was sure the law would finally let them get 11-year-old Emily on the family’s health insurance.

Insurers had repeatedly rejected Emily due to a birth defect of the spine, surgically corrected when she was an infant. The law requires insurers to accept children regardless of pre-existing health problems, a safeguard that will extend to people of all ages in 2014.

But because Emily’s father is self-employed and the family buys its own coverage, things didn’t work out as expected.

Certain “grandfathered” plans selling individual coverage are exempt from the law’s requirement to cover kids. The Thompsons’ plan was one. That meant they would have to apply for a whole new policy, and the mother, a breast cancer survivor, was unlikely to be accepted.