March 22, 2010

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House of Representatives passes health care reform!

Late Sunday night, the House passed the Senate

Health Care Reform Bill, clearing the way for mandatory healthcare coverage for
all U.S. citizens. Whether you like it or not (and everyone has an opinion),
your first priority is probably to figure out if anything is going to change
right away. First of all, if you do not have health insurance, mandatory
coverage doesn’t start until 2014. Some changes, however, start a lot sooner.

The first changes

My personal favorite: “Beginning 6 months after final enactment, the bill bans insurance companies from denying coverage for children with preexisting medical conditions.”

Small business tax credits: Beginning calendar year 2010, the bill offers tax credits to help small businesses provide health insurance. Business that begin offering employee health coverage will be eligible for tax credits of up to 35% of their total employee premium payments. Starting in 2014, the small business tax credits will cover 50% of premiums.

Closing the Medicare Part D “donut hole”: Effective this year, Medicare beneficiaries who fall into the costly Part D prescription drug “donut hole” will get a $250 rebate. Starting in 2011, the bill institutes a 50% discount on brand-name drugs needed by seniors already in the donut hole, and by 2020 it completely eliminates the hated hole.

Immediate help for the uninsured: Until the Health Insurance Exchange is set up, the bill provides immediate access to health insurance, through a temporary high-risk pool, for Americans who have been denied coverage because of a preexisting condition. This benefit takes effect 90 days after final enactment of the bill.

More doctors and nurses: Effective immediately, the bill authorizes money to fund programs intended to increase the number of doctors, nurses, and public health professionals.

No more lifetime coverage limits: Beginning 6 months after final enactment, the bill bans insurance companies from imposing lifetime coverage limits.

More services for your insurance buck: Starting January 1, 2011, insurance companies serving individuals and small groups must spend 80% of premium payments on medical services; insurers in the large-group market will have to spend 85% on medical services. Companies that don’t will have to rebate their customers. (Oh, the joy of it!)

BUT REMEMBER—IT AIN’T OVER ‘TIL IT’S OVER!

The House also passed H.R. 4872, the Reconciliation Act of 2010, late Sunday night. The measure is intended to reconcile the House’s vision of healthcare reform with the Senate’s. The next step is for the Senate to approve the reconciliation measures before the bill goes to the President. There’s a lot in H.R. 4872, and no one knows if Senate Democrats, who have the 50 votes needed for final passage, can get the reconciliation bill through unscathed. Not one word can be changed with the bill, or it must return to the House for another vote and this back and-forthing could go on and on and on…

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