Monday, September 20, 2010

Health Reform - The Early Benefits

Last week, the U.S. Census Bureau reported the number of people without health insurance shot up by another 4.4 million for a total of 50.7 million people. That's the biggest jump in a year ever, and it's a dramatic reminder of why we need health reform.

But the news also reminds us that we now have a new health reform law that is currently helping people get coverage and providing some important new protections. The next wave of reforms is coming up this week on September 23, the six-month anniversary of the law's passage.

Though it's far from perfect, the health reform law points us in the right direction. If you examine what's really in the law, there are many good provisions that help a lot of people. Here are a few examples of what I'm talking about:

Health insurers have a new set of rules. And it's high time. They won't be able to cancel your coverage if you get sick, impose financial barriers to emergency care, put a lifetime dollar limit on your coverage, or deny coverage to children under age 19 who have pre-existing conditions. They also have to begin to tell you in plain English what's covered and not covered, what they'll pay for specific services, and what rights you have to appeal their decisions. And, already, there are new tools that let you compare health plans and policies in every state in ways you couldn't (and insurers didn't want you to) in the past. You can check out these comparisons at

The law preserves job-based coverage. If you get health insurance through your job, your coverage will likely remain pretty much the same, except for some added consumer protections. For example, over time, insurers have to improve the procedures by which you can appeal coverage denials. At the same time, some small businesses get a leg up. Starting this year, those with up to 25 full-time workers and average wages under $50,000 per worker are eligible for tax credits of up to 35% of premium costs for two years. Big businesses get help, too. Those that provide coverage to early retirees aged 55 to 64 can get a government subsidy if they preserve that coverage until 2014.

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