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What health reform means for the people of Illinois

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Friday, December 14, 2012

The Affordable Care Act and You: The New Consumer Benefits

The election is over, and the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is here to stay. The Shriver Center, along with numerous national and local advocacy organizations, has been active in getting the word out about what is in the ACA. Surveys show that many people are unaware of the benefits that are available to them because of the ACA and that most Americansapprove of the consumer benefits offered by the Act. And so, we are launching a biweekly blog series called “The Affordable Care Act and You” because it is time to get to know the ACA.

Let’s start with the basics. What is the Affordable Care Act? Signed on March 23, 2010, the Affordable Care Act sets forth provisions and regulations to reform our health care system in a way that offers more people access to health care. It is important to know that not all insurance plans are subject to the consumer protections rules of the ACA. Employer-sponsored health insurance plans that existed before March 23, 2010, are granted a “grandfather status,” which basically means that they have to abide only by some of the rules of the ACA. However, insurance plans created after that date must abide by all of the ACA’s regulations.

The ACA has decreased the number of uninsured individuals in the U.S., ensured that insurance companies spend at least 80% of your premium dollars on your medical needs, and has made it easier for small businesses to offer health insurance to their employees. These are just some of the existing reforms made by the ACA; in this first blog in the series we will talk about several more consumer benefits provided for in the Act.

1. The ACA makes preventive services free of cost-sharing.

Too many Americans refrain from getting needed preventive care because of the expenses they must pay out-of-pocket.Preventive care is crucial for the simple fact that it helps individuals to avoid costly and deadly illness by detecting health issues early. The ACA requires health plans, excluding grandfathered plans, to offer you preventive services at no additional cost. This means that your immunizations, screenings, and checkups are covered—no out-of-pocket expenses. And for women, well-woman visits, mammograms, contraceptives, and other services are also free of cost-sharing. You can find the full list of preventive services that are now free of cost-sharing here.

2. The ACA bans lifetime dollar limits.

Medical expenses are costly for a healthy individual; for millions of Americans living with a chronic medical condition, health care costs can lead to financial ruin and loss of health insurance. For years, it has been perfectly legal for insurance companies to impose a lifetime dollar limit on your health coverage. And once you reach that amount, they can stop paying for your health expenses. Now, because of the ACA, if you or someone you know has a medical condition, there is no longer a need to worry about losing insurance coverage because of lifetime dollar limit. Because of the ACA, insurance companies are banned from imposing a lifetime dollar limit on your coverage. In addition, the use ofannual dollar limits will be phased out over the next two years and banned entirely in 2014.

3. The ACA provides for dependent coverage for young adults up to the age of 26.

The ACA’s dependent coverage provision allows young adults up to the age of 26, to stay or be added to their parents’ health insurance. The young adult population, or so-called “young invincibles,” often struggle to afford health insurance, and many just go without. Since the dependent coverage provision went into effect in 2010, 13.7 million young adultswere able to remain or rejoin their parents’ health insurance. If you are under the age of 26, or a parent of a young adult under the under this age, check to see if your insurance plan offers dependent coverage up to the age of 26.

4. The ACA will assure that pre-existing conditions will no longer be a barrier to coverage.

Several common health conditions—asthma, high blood pressure, arthritis—can be considered pre-existing conditions. Insurance companies, if they choose to, can refuse to cover you because of a pre-existing condition. Since the passage of the ACA, children can no longer be denied health insurance because of a pre-existing condition. Adults, on the other hand, must wait until 2014 to receive the same benefit. Luckily, the federal government, under the ACA, provided funding to the states for temporary high-risk pools. This funding provides health insurance for adults with pre-existing conditions who are unable to find coverage because of their conditions. In Illinois, this program is called the Illinois Pre-existing Condition Plan (IPXP), and you can enroll by contacting the Department of Insurance.

5. The ACA will end gender rating.

In many states, women can be charged more for health insurance than men—as much $391 more annually! This surprisingly common practice—where insurance company charge more based on gender—is called gender rating. In states that do not already prohibit gender rating, 95% of the best-selling health insurance plans practice it. In Illinois, 100% of the best-selling health insurance plans practice gender rating. Starting in 2014, the ACA will ban gender rating in all states.

These five patient consumer benefits are only the tip of the iceberg. Once the ACA is fully implemented, Americans can expect health insurance to be more accessible, affordable, and comprehensive. Now you know some of the consumer benefits that may benefit you or your family and friends. So spread the word!

This post originally appeared on The Shriver Brief.
Coauthored by Viviane Clement and Andrea Kovach.

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