Last week, history was made: Surrounded by Congressmen who fought tirelessly to get this bill passed, advocates who have committed their lives to reform, and Americans who have been harmed by our broken system, President Obama signed the health reform bill into law. The law brings a much-needed end to years of struggle and begins a new journey toward a more just health care system.
Many Americans are still unsure as to what this new legislation means for them. The reality is that it will dramatically improve the state of health care across our nation. One of the most significant changes, which will take effect within the first year, is insurance companies will no longer be able to drop your coverage when you become sick, nor will they be able to place lifetime caps on your coverage. Further, health plans will have to cover children's pre-existing conditions, and kids will also be able to stay on their parent's plan through the age of 26. Both will give great relief to parents who have struggled to get treatment for their children or have worried about their college-aged children trying to find jobs with health coverage after graduation.
Seniors will also see immediate benefits. For the first time, the co-payments and deductibles in Medicare for many preventive services and screenings will be eliminated. The infamous "doughnut hole" will begin to be closed, giving seniors much-needed assistance paying for their prescription drugs. For moderate- to low-income families, states will not be able to eliminate people from their Medicaid programs until the exchanges become operational in 2014, and they must maintain their Medicaid and Children's Health Insurance Programs (CHIP) for children until 2019.
Within four years, exchanges will be created where Americans who are self-employed or work for a small businesses can purchase insurance, which must meet basic federal guidelines of coverage. These guidelines include ending practices like denying customers due to pre-existing conditions, rescinding coverage when you get sick, and setting lifetime limits on coverage. The exchanges will also work to make premiums more reasonable, but if you still need help paying for coverage, many Americans will be eligible for sliding-scale subsidies to use towards the purchase of premiums.
These are only a few of the many benefits this new health reform law will bring to millions of American families who have been suffering for years under our broken health care system. To find out more about how health reform will affect you, check out this article in the New York Times. Or to find out how health reform will help your state, check out Families USA's state-by-state reports, Health Coverage in the States: How Will Health Reform Help?