Thursday, July 29, 2010

Health Care Reform Basics Explained

The family issues activist group MomsRising met with HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius in a web chat recently to ask questions that they had gathered from their million-plus membership of mothers. Since I've questioned MomsRising's tactics in the past, I was curious to see how this chat would go. It's certainly an important topic: a HealthDay/Harris Poll of 2,100-plus Americans, released today, showed that many are deeply confused about what changes to expect from the Affordable Care Act that passed in March.

Actress Fran Dreschler, who survived uterine cancer and now works to improve cancer awareness among women through her website Cancer Schmancer, joined Sebelius and MomsRising's National Campaign Director Donna Norton in the web chat.

It was an odd collection of personalities: the articulate, calm Sebelius; the passionate and occasionally off-topic Dreschler; and the smiling, friendly Norton, who wore a MomsRising T-shirt (as MomsRising representatives do when meeting publicly with government officials, a habit that I dislike) in contrast to the smartly-dressed Sebelius and Dreschler.

The web chat touched on some changes coming in 2014 (the health insurance exchange), but focused on what will change in 2010. Changes to expect this year include:
  • preventative care coverage without out-of-pocket costs to the consumer 
  • new insurance pools for people denied coverage due to pre-existing conditions
  • expanded health care coverage for adults up to age 26
  • elimination of annual caps on insurance coverage for individuals
Sebelius, Norton, and Dreschler also discussed more innovative disease-prevention strategies included in the bill, such as calorie labeling on menu items in fast food restaurants. I was glad to see MomsRising lead a substantive discussion of health care reform.

A timeline of when various benefits will begin is available on the new site, which also has an interactive section that lists health insurance options for different groups of people.

It's unclear to me whether health insurance will become less complicated under the new law. Billing paperwork from health care insurers and providers is currently so complex and error-prone that Quicken has developed Health Expense Tracker software that interacts electronically with certain health insurance companies to help consumers keep track of everything. The 1996 HIPAA bill was designed (in part) to reduce and streamline insurance paperwork; instead, it has increased it.

On the other hand, the Affordable Care Act offers Americans assurances that their medical expenses will be covered more fairly. To pay for this, the bill is structured to provide financial incentives for insurers (and other organizations) to focus on preventing disease, rather than dropping patients when their diseases become too expensive. With more than half of all U.S. bankruptcies caused by unpaid medical expenses, it's about time for the change.

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