Examining The First Wave Of Health Overhaul Changes Coming This Week

Houston Chronicle: Wider access and protections for health care consumers kick in on Thursday as a set of health law provisions take effect. "Most of this month's changes apply directly to the 12 million Texans covered by private health insurance plans, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Insurers may no longer charge co-payments, deductibles or co-insurance for preventive services. Insurance companies also are prohibited from canceling coverage for sick patients or those who have reached lifetime or annual coverage limits. Children younger than 19 can't be denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions and many plans will expand to include young adults up to age 26 who join or remain on their parents' policies." Other big changes come later, including a large expansion of Medicaid in 2014 (George, 9/19).

The Cincinnati Enquirer: "The new law will transform an industry that covers nearly one-fifth of the U.S. economy and eventually could change the way every patient, doctor, hospital and insurer in Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky delivers or receives medical care. The number of uninsured Americans continues to grow. The Census Bureau said last week that 50.7 million people, or about 16.7 percent of the population, were without coverage in 2009 as the recession took hold. Those with benefits provided through their employer will see the changes this fall when they enroll for 2011. They will be the most stable group for the next several years, likely able to keep the insurance and the doctor they have now" (Peale, 9/20).

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has a rundown on the rules that take effect this week including on those for Medicare beneficiaries. "For those on Medicare: Discounts will be provided for beneficiaries in the so-called 'doughnut hole' who must pay for their own prescriptions. No co-payment will be required for preventive care or an annual 'wellness' visit. Over time, extra benefits under Medicare Advantage may vanish because the new law cuts subsidies to insurers who provide the plans" (Steiden, 9/19).

The New York Times: Part of the changes this year include a tax credit available to companies with fewer than 25 full-time workers who average wages of less than $50,000 a year. "Just over one-third of Americans work for small businesses with fewer than 100 employees. If you're one of those workers, you know that very few small companies offer comprehensive health insurance — or for that matter, any health insurance at all. Even when they do, premiums can be prohibitively expensive, because small businesses can't negotiate the discounts given to large group plans. … To qualify, employers must pay at least 50 percent of their employees' health care premiums." The story offers a guide to small business owners and employees about the tax credits (Konrad, 9/17).

The Hill: Meanwhile, the Department of Health and Human Services on Friday "awarded $130.8 million to strengthen the nation's healthcare workforce. The funds target six key areas: primary care workforce training, oral health workforce training, equipment to enhance training across the health professions, loan repayments for health professionals, health career opportunity programs for disadvantaged students, and patient navigator outreach and chronic disease prevention in health disparity populations" (Pecquet, 9/17).

Kaiser Health News tracked the weekend's health policy developments, including run-up coverage on Saturday and Sunday related to the reform provisions scheduled to take effect this week.

Related, earlier KHN stories:

A Consumer's Guide To The Health Law, Six Months In (Carey, 9/15).

Key Health Law Provisions Begin Sept. 23 (Andrews, 9/14).

This is part of Kaiser Health News' Daily Report - a summary of health policy coverage from more than 300 news organizations. The full summary of the day's news can be found here and you can sign up for e-mail subscriptions to the Daily Report here. In addition, our staff of reporters and correspondents file original stories each day, which you can find on our home page.