Health Care Reform: What’s New, and What’s Next

Unions fought to pass the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), a historic federal health care reform bill. President Obama signed the PPACA into law six months ago this week. Now that health care reform is a reality, what does it mean for working (and unemployed) Californians?

Many Californians saw immediate benefits from the new law. Today, millions more Californians will start to see how the health care law benefits them as several important new provisions go into effect.

Health care reform could not have come at a more critical time for our state. A recent Census Bureau report finds that the number of uninsured Californians shot up to 20 percent of the population since 2008. Californians contend with insurance industry rules that make it hard to stay insured and have adequate care when people need it the most. It’s no surprise then that the majority of personal bankruptcies are caused by medical debt.
Federal health reform is changing all that.

Seniors have been the first to see the rewards of the new law. Over 80,000 checks have been sent to seniors in California who fall in the “donut hole” in the Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage. And this is just the beginning. An estimated 382,000 seniors in California will receive rebate checks of $250 each.

The new law extended further aid to retirees and employers by setting up a new reinsurance program for early retirees. The program has a $5 billion fund to reimburse employers and union health plans for the costs of early retirees ages 55-65. To see if your employer or union trust applied for federal funds, check the list here.

Young adults will now start to benefit from the new law as well and will no longer have to forgo medical treatment because they can’t afford it. As of today, young adults up to age 26 will be allowed to stay on their parents' health plan. They will be eligible for coverage the first date of their parents insurance plan renewal.

An estimated 1.3 million young adults in California will now be able to stay on their parents' health plans thanks to te new law. The benefit is especially important given the high unemployment numbers for young adults in California and the lack of health coverage in many low-wage jobs that young people have. The children of state workers and other public employees will be among the first to gain coverage since open enrollment for CalPERS began on September 13th and continues for four weeks.

Other provisions of the law that kick in this month will end the worst insurance industry abuses. Insurers are prohibited from denying coverage to children under 19 that have pre-existing conditions such as asthma or diabetes. Insurers are also prohibited from dropping coverage when someone gets sick, a practice called recission. Now if you pay your premiums for years and then are diagnosed with cancer or another illness, insurers cannot simply stop paying for your coverage because you didn’t tell them you had teenage acne or other insurer excuses to end coverage.

The abusive practice of placing a lifetime limit on insurance coverage will end today as well, thanks to the federal reform. Insurance companies will no longer be able to put a limit on the dollar amount of care a person receives in their lifetime. If you are seriously ill or injured, you won’t have to worry that your treatment will cost too much and exceed the limit the insurance company put on your coverage.

The fight for health care reform did not end with Obama’s signature on the bill. Insurers, Republicans and other opponents are already finding ways to circumvent, undermine and weaken the health care law. Several large insurers, including Anthem and Wellpoint, have dropped their child-only plans just days before the provision prohibiting denying coverage to kids with pre-existing conditions takes effect. Ethan Rome, the director of Health Care For America Now, responded:

We're just days away from a new era when insurance companies must stop denying coverage to kids just because they are sick, and now some of the biggest changed their minds. [It] is immoral, and to blame their appalling behavior on the new law is patently dishonest.

Insurance industry shenanigans today foreshadow what could be a fight to implement health care reform to benefit people not CEOs. The biggest changes from the federal law don’t kick in until 2014, and the states have the responsibility to implement many of those provisions. Our work for health care reform just began with the passage of the PPACA. We’ll keep you updated on health care reform as it happens. Check back for updates and new information.

For more information:

What Does Health Care Reform Mean for You

Affordable Care Act Timeline

The Affordable Care Act: A Guide for Union Negotiators