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Opinion: A New Day for Health Care in America

Sep 23, 2010 – 5:48 AM
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Sec. Kathleen Sebelius

Special to AOL News
(Sept. 23) -- Today marks a turning point for health care consumers. As part of the new health insurance reform law, the Affordable Care Act, new patient protections will begin to take effect, ending some of the worst abuses of insurance companies and giving Americans important new rights.

Thanks to these reforms, Americans with health insurance will have more security. Insurance plans will no longer be able to set lifetime dollar limits on your benefits or lock you out of medication and treatment you need. And your plan won't be able to cancel your policy because of an unintentional mistake on the paperwork.

Americans will also get better access to health coverage. Most plans will no longer be able to refuse to sell you a policy because your child has asthma, autism or some other pre-existing condition. And young adults who don't get insurance through their jobs will be able to stay on their parents' policy until their 26th birthday.

Finally, the Patient's Bill of Rights will break down barriers to care. New plans will have to charge the same cost-sharing whether the hospital is in network or out of network when someone is rushed to the emergency room. And most plans will have to cover recommended preventive care like immunizations and routine physicals at no extra charge.

These benefits will make a huge difference in the lives of Americans across the country.

Because of these new protections, the Phoenix family whose twins were diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy will no longer have to dread the day when their medical expenses hit their insurance policy's lifetime cap.

People like the Katy, Texas, man whose insurance company claimed his brain cancer diagnosis was a "pre-existing condition" will not be left to deal with a devastating illness without access to insurance.

And the young woman with diabetes from Lawrence, Kan., can stay on her stepfather's policy until her 26th birthday. By then, she'll be able to shop in the new health insurance marketplace the law creates, called an exchange, where insurers will be prohibited from denying people coverage because of their pre-existing medical conditions.

These reforms are only the latest in a series of Affordable Care Act reforms that have already strengthened the country's health insurance system. Over the past six months, we've mailed $250 checks to more than 1 million seniors who had fallen into the Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage gap known as the "doughnut hole."

We've made tax credits available for small businesses to help them purchase health insurance for their employees -- and more than 4.4 million companies may be eligible. We've signed up nearly 2,000 employers, unions, and state and local governments for the Early Retiree Reinsurance Program, which gives them relief from the skyrocketing health care costs of their early retirees and their families.

We've set up a Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan in every state of the country, so the man from Katy, Texas, has an option for health insurance coverage between now and when the exchanges are up in 2014.

In addition, the law requires a clear, fair appeals process that people with new plans will be able to turn to if their insurance companies deny a claim.

As these reforms take effect, they also serve as a bridge until 2014, when still more important benefits of the new law kick in. The new health insurance exchanges will allow families and small businesses to purchase affordable insurance -- the same coverage as members of Congress -- regardless of their health status. To make sure coverage is affordable, millions of Americans will get the largest middle-class tax cut in American history to help them pay for health care.

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If you would like to find out more about the Affordable Care Act, you can visit our new consumer website, which has detailed information about how the new law will help you. It also lets you see all of your personalized health insurance options in one place, with just a few clicks of the mouse. And starting in October, it will also have basic pricing information, so you'll have information you need to make the right health insurance decision.

For too long, too many American families have been forced to sell their homes or go bankrupt because of medical expenses. Now, thanks to these new patient protections, Americans will be able to know that the policy that they've faithfully paid into every month will actually be there if they or their families get sick.

Now Americans, and not their insurance companies, can be the ones controlling health care decisions. It's about time.

Kathleen Sebelius is secretary of health and human services.
Filed under: Opinion
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