Marguerite Salazar, Denver, column: Health care reform’s benefits start todaySix months after Congress passed and the president signed the new health reform law, Americans already are seeing the benefits.
By: Marguerite Salazar,
By Marguerite Salazar
DENVER, Colo. — Six months after Congress passed and the president signed the new health reform law, Americans already are seeing the benefits.
Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, thousands of Americans who had been shut out of the health insurance market now are getting coverage through new pre-existing condition insurance plans. More than a million eligible seniors and people with disabilities who have fallen into the so-called Medicare prescription-drug doughnut hole have received $250 checks to help them afford their medications.
And many small businesses are getting help, too; tax credits this year to make it easier for them to provide coverage to their workers. In North Dakota, more than 15,000 small businesses will be eligible for the credit.
Today and in the months ahead, our focus is on implementing these solutions and getting the benefits to the people who need them.
We have rolled out powerful new consumer-friendly resources such as the popular website, HealthCare.gov, where — for the first time ever — people you can visit a single website that will tell you all of your health insurance options. Starting in October, the website also will contain basic pricing information.
The new law also is building a stronger foundation for our health care system.
Prevention must be the cornerstone of any effort to help people stay well, live healthier lives and reduce health care costs. So Medicare now will cover the entire cost of seniors’ annual wellness visit with their physician.
The law protects seniors' guaranteed Medicare benefits while also eliminating co-pays altogether for many recommended preventive services such as screenings for colon or breast cancer.
We have also already begun training more doctors, nurses and other primary care providers, so all Americans can see a health care provider whenever they or their families need care.
Combined with investments we are making in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, we will be able to place more than 16,000 dedicated health care professionals across the country over the next five years. And by investing in community health centers, we will nearly double the number of patients they serve from 20 million a year to 40 million.
This week is reason for celebration as important new consumer protections from the new law start to take effect, marking a turning point for the insurance industry. It’s no longer business as usual. Now, patients are going to be in charge of their care. For example, the next time your coverage renews:
n Insurance companies no longer will be able to cancel your policy just because you made a minor mistake on an application.
n Insurance companies no longer will be able to place lifetime dollar limits on your benefits that result in people losing their insurance when they need it most — in the middle of a crisis.
n Insurance companies, in many cases, no longer will be allowed to refuse to sell you a policy to cover your child just because she was born with asthma or some other pre-existing medical condition.
n Insurance companies, in many cases, no longer will be allowed to refuse to pay a doctor or hospital bill without giving you the chance to appeal to a group of outside experts.
As these reforms take effect, they also serve as a bridge until 2014, when still more important benefits of the new law kick in.
New health insurance exchanges will let families and small businesses buy affordable insurance — the same coverage as members of Congress — regardless of their health status. And to help make sure coverage is affordable, millions of Americans will benefit from the largest middle-class tax cut for health care in American history to help them pay for it.
When President Barack Obama came into office, he pledged to put America back on the right path. With the Affordable Care Act and the new protections that begin today to take effect, Americans across the country can already see a better health care future ahead.
So the next time you hear some politician say that he wants to repeal the law, ask yourself, “Do I want to give up these benefits after waiting so long to get them?”
I’m sure you’ll agree the answer is “no.”
Salazar is Region VIII director of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.