In 2010 Congress passed landmark legislation that helps consumers in many ways. Congress passed laws providing for credit card reform and help with other consumer debt (including foreclosure help), education reform (making student loans more accessible and affordable), wage parity for women, and a host of other areas that lend strong protection to average Americans. The most powerful law passed -- and the most controversial -- was the health care reform bill, or the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. We are quite frankly surprised at the amount of misinformation being circulated about health care reform, especially since it will greatly benefit our clientele across the board. In a recent Continuing Legal Education class that focused on "Obamacare", the first comment by the lawyer-instructor was that the law was an excellent consumer protection law, and he didn't understand why it has gotten such a bad rap. In an effort to educate our clients on how the Affordable Care Act will benefit them, we offer the following information, with pertinent links. Since our practice focuses on elder law issues, we look at those areas first, then briefly mention other aspects of health care reform that will benefit our non-senior clients.
First, the confusion. Months after the Affordable Care Act passed, senior citizens -- who benefit most from this law with a host of changes that improve Medicare -- still do not understand how the law will benefit them. Here is a link to an article that discusses this confusion, and clarifies the record, by Retire Smart columnist Mark Miller, titled "Misunderstandings Are Rampant on Health Care Reform and Medicare": http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mark-miller/misunderstandings-are-ram_b_680750.html
Medicare will improve for all seniors as follows:
1. Many preventive care services will now be FREE, including annual physicals, colorectal cancer screening and mammograms.
2. The donut hole in Part D prescription drug coverage will close over the next 10 years.
3. Choice of doctors continues, and the number of available primary care doctors, nurses and physicians assistants will increase through various incentives.
4. Seniors in the Medicare Advantage plan will continue to receive all Medicare benefits; only the amount of reimbursements to the insurance companies will change.
Also for our senior clients, the Affordable Care Act established an Eldercare Locator through the U.S. Administration on Aging at 1-800-677-1116 or www.eldercare.gov. This website helps locate agencies all across the U.S. that provide home- and community-based services and benefits counseling, transportation, meals, home care and caregiver support services.
A new Patient's Bill of Rights, which went into effect on January 1, 2011, will protect everyone as follows: insurance companies cannot cancel patients who get sick; they cannot deny coverage to children with pre-existing conditions, and they must cover children to age 26 on their parents' policies; lifetime insurance limits are abolished; dollar limits on coverage, meaning how much an insurance company will pay for a particular service, are abolished; patients have more choice in selecting their physicians and women do not require a referral to see an ob-gyn; and insurance companies can no longer penalize patients who receive emergency care out of network.
Veterans will receive better access to care, especially wounded warriors and ill or injured veterans. An additional 500,000 veterans who were previously denied care will now receive it.
Workers can join a voluntary program to provide future long-term care benefits. Community Living Assistance Services and Supports (CLASS) will provide benefits to those who voluntarily join through payroll deductions and who need at-home or nursing home care in the future.
The Affordable Care Act contains many more provisions to help all Americans. Following are several links providing additional information:
The states have also begun setting up their programs and insurance exchanges under the act. New York has created the NY Bridge Plan, which provides affordable health insurance premiums to those with pre-existing conditions and no other insurance. For more information, go to: www.healthcarereform.ny.gov. If you live in another state, the federal website for the Affordable Care Act has a page that describes the states' plans and lists contact information where consumer can obtain current information: bit.ly/9pXgbM Shop on the private health insurance exchange at eHealthInsurance.com.
It is important to note that businesses with fewer than 50 employees are NOT required to provide health insurance. For those that wish to consider the Small Business health Options Program, information can be found at the following link: http://www.dol.gov/ebsa/pdf/shop.pdf
We hope all of our clients will take the time to educate themselves on health care reform. There are real benefits in this legislation for senior citizens, veterans and all working Americans. Find out at links above.