This Week In Health Care Reform

President Obama finalized his health care reform package this week, signing into law the package of fixes approved by the House late last week. While some of the new provisions won’t take effect until 2014, some will be phased in beginning this year.

Health Care Reform
President Obama Signs Final Health Care Bill into Law:  On Tuesday, President Obama signed into law the package of changes to the newly enacted Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Approved over unanimous Republican opposition in both chambers of Congress, this reconciliation bill increases the overall cost of the health care reform legislation by $65 billion, bringing the new total to $940 billion over the next 10 years.

What Does This Health Care Reform Legislation Mean: The biggest changes to the nation’s health insurance system will not take effect until 2014. Some of the changes include: the creation of insurance marketplaces called “exchanges” where people can shop for insurance; rules requiring insurers to accept all applicants, including those with pre-existing conditions; and an expansion of state Medicaid programs. Some additional provisions will become effective immediately while others will kick in later this year.

These are some of the features of the new health care overhaul bill passed through the reconciliation process and slated to begin to take effect in 2010:

  • For new sales and subscribers who change policies after March 23, 2010, insurance companies will be required to make additional changes beginning in approximately 6 months, such as removing any member cost sharing for “preventive” benefits (as defined by the legislation). The renewal product requirements beginning for plan years 6 months after enactment include:
  • Coverage for dependents up to age 26;
  • Removal of limits on lifetime maximum benefits;
  • Temporary federal high-risk pools; and
  • Tax credits for small group employers.

Health Care Reform Impacts on Premiums: There are concerns that the new taxes on health insurance will likely increase premiums. Members of the news media report that under the health care overhaul , young adults who buy their own individual health insurance will carry a heavier burden of the medical costs of older Americans. This is expected to raise insurance premiums for young people when the plan takes full effect in 2014.

Additional Activities
Several Companies Push to Repeal Provision of Health Care Law: The American Benefits Council, an association representing hundreds of large corporations, urged President Obama and Congressional Democrats to repeal a provision in the health care bill that reduces the tax deductions allowed to companies that provide drug coverage for their retired employees. As a result of this impending provision, companies like AT&T, Caterpillar, Prudential, Deere Co. and 3M have all announced substantial charges against their first-quarter earnings in order to comply with federal accounting rules.

Insurers Will Comply With Law Regarding Children’s Coverage: This past week, despite vague language in the new health care law regarding coverage of children with pre-existing conditions, insurance companies assured HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius that they await clarification and will comply with the law, effective later this year.

Indiana health insurance Joins States’ Lawsuit Against Health Care Bill: In response to the new health care reform legislation, the Attorneys General of several states across the country filed lawsuits arguing against the constitutionality of requiring Americans to purchase health insurance. This week, the state of Indiana joined 13 others in a lawsuit filed last week in a Florida federal court. The 14 states – Indiana, Florida, Alabama, Colorado, Idaho, Louisiana, Michigan, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah and Washington – will become joint plaintiffs in the suit and split the costs of the legal challenge.

Doctors Group Files Lawsuit to Repeal Health Care Legislation: The Association of American Physicians and Surgeons filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia against HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Social Security Administration Commissioner Michael Astrue. Attorneys for the group argue that the insurance mandate is unconstitutional. They also argued against the constitutionality of other provisions saying, “If the bill goes unchallenged, then it spells the end of freedom in medicine as we know it.”

Public Opinion
More Americans Disapprove of President’s Handling of Health Care: In a recent CNN poll, 54 percent of Americans said they disapprove of the way President Obama is handling health care reform, while 45 percent approve. In addition, 56 percent of respondents feel the Democrats’ health care legislation creates too much government involvement in the nation’s health care system.

Americans Unhappy over Health Care Reform Passage: In a recent USA Today/Gallup poll, 50 percent of Americans said the recent passage of health care reform legislation is a bad thing. Further, 55 percent say health care costs in the U.S. will rise as a result of the bill.

Two Polls Offer Different Results:  In a newly released Rasmussen report, 54 percent of Americans favor repealing the recently enacted health care legislation. Further, 49 percent believe the new law will reduce the quality of care, while 60 percent think it will increase the federal budget deficit. In contrast, supporters of reform are touting the recent CNN poll that shows 50 percent of Americans are either fine with the new legislation or would favor seeing more government involvement in health care. In this poll, only 47 percent of Americans favor repealing the bill.

Looking Ahead
Late this week , President Obama traveled to the swing states of Maine and North Carolina to discuss details of the new health care reform law and its effects on unemployment and small business. At the same time, Republicans continue to debate how best to leverage growing discontent over the bill and its implications in the months leading up to the November elections. In the meantime, it’s within federal agencies such as HHS that much of the detail, timing and how-to questions will be worked out going forward.

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