Nancy-Ann DeParle, Director of the White House Office of Health Reform, recently offered us a look at what health reform has accomplished in a few short weeks. And HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius Tuesday announced how it's going to help early retirees stay covered before reaching Medicare age. The pace is pretty impressive.
Deparle listed the current accomplishments of health reform on the White House blog:
Help Small Businesses Lower Costs. As we’ve said before, the rising cost of health care makes it increasingly difficult for small business to stay afloat. Often, employers in danger of losing their businesses have to make agonizing choices about firing employees or cutting benefits. Under the new health reform law, small businesses are eligible for tax credits to help purchase health insurance for their employees. Specifically, these tax credits will help businesses with 25 or fewer full-time employees, who pay for at least half of their employees’ health insurance coverage. The tax credits will be phased out by 2014, when small businesses will be able to purchase high-quality, affordable health coverage in the new health insurance exchanges.
Expanded Coverage for Young Adults. Under the new law, young adults are permitted to stay on their parents’ insurance plans until they are 26 (provided they are dependents themselves.) Several major private insurers agreed to cooperate with the law and implement new coverage provision immediately, instead of waiting for the Sept. 23 deadline. (The same thing happened with the provision that banned rescissions.) This is a big relief for many recent college students graduating this spring; it means they get to stay insured while they look for a job (and health insurance) of their own. It also helps young adults who aren't in college who have not found a job, or who have not found a job that provides health care.
Provided Relief for Americans with Pre-Existing Conditions. The new law creates a national high risk pool to cover Americans with pre-existing conditions. The pool is intended as a temporary stopgap -- once the health insurance exchanges launch in 2014, denying health care coverage because of a pre-existing condition will be illegal. Also, the law requires insurers provide coverage to children with pre-existing conditions starting this year. Like the prohibition on rescissions and the requirement to cover young adults, insurers agreed to implement this provision immediately. (However, it was the requirement to cover children -- and a strongly worded letter from the HHS Secretary -- that got the ball rolling in the right direction for early implementation.)
Protect Premium Dollars and Hold Insurers Accountable. The law ensures that the premium dollars Americans pay for their health insurance actually go toward providing medical care. Under reform, the “medical loss ratio” (how much money insurers spend on health care rather than administrative costs like advertising and overhead) has to be at least 85 percent for large group plans and 80 percent for the small group market.
Soon after DeParle shared her progress report, Sebelius gave an update on help for early retirees, another area where people are getting help fast. The health reform law includes $5 billion to help employers keep health coverage for early retirees -- from age 55 until they become eligible for Medicare at 65. Again, it's temporary, only until the exchanges are functioning in 2014. But this is a fast-growing group of people who have trouble getting affordable coverage on the individual market.
“Rising costs have made it hard for employers to provide quality, affordable health insurance for workers and retirees,” Sebelius said in a statement. “As a result, many Americans who retire before they are eligible for Medicare are worried about losing health insurance coverage through their former employers, putting them at risk of losing their life savings due to medical costs. This new program will provide much-needed relief so that employers can provide more retirees with quality, affordable insurance, starting this year.”
All in all, a pretty good start!