Health Reform Implementation: Risk Pool Nears Enrollment Date; Seniors Anxious About Medicare Changes; Benefits Reportable

The (Jacksonville) Florida Times-Union: As high-risk insurance pools are preparing to enroll the chronically ill July 1, officials should heed the Florida experience. "Plagued by exorbitant medical costs and skimpy revenue, the Florida Comprehensive Health Association, by order of the Legislature, stopped accepting new enrollees in 1991, eight years after it was created." The pool once covered about 7,000 Florida residents; now only a few hundred remain as premiums are double the standard rate. "Still, the cost of care exceeded the amount collected in premiums by about $1.5 million last year." It's reported that as many as 7 million Americans may qualify for the $5 billion pool (Cox, 6/21).

Meanwhile, The Seattle Times reports that seniors are anxious about upcoming cuts and changes to Medicare, as part of the new health overhaul law. "Overhauling Medicare, the federal insurance plan that pays the medical bills of some 45 million Americans, most of them seniors, is a key part of remaking the national health-care system. To provide coverage for millions of uninsured Americans of all ages, the law calls for squeezing Medicare to come up with more than half the $938 billion estimated cost of the new national health plan." Even without the health law, cuts to Medicare would eventually be necessary to ensure the program's solvency.

But, despite the cuts, some seniors may actually see new benefits. "For some 35 million Americans now on traditional Medicare… basic benefits will be protected and even increased: Beginning next year, co-pays and deductibles will be lifted for many preventive services and a yearly physical." By contrast, private Medicare Advantage plans will face cuts that could raise premiums or shrink benefits for members. Also, those with Medicare prescription drug benefits will no longer face a coverage gap that once hit many seniors, though beneficiaries with higher incomes will pay more for drug coverage (Ostrom, 6/19).

The Florida Times-Union, in a separate story: Health benefits are not taxable, but they are reportable. "The value of your employer-provided health care insurance will appear on your W-2 form, but it won't be considered taxable income. The value is purely for informational purposes, according to the fact-finding sources, FactCheck.org and PolitiFact.com, and various other media outlets who quote tax experts" (Fader, 6/20).

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