RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—There's a lot of confusion surrounding the far-reaching, landmark healthcare legislation President Barack Obama signed into law Tuesday, partially due to its sheer length—2,000-plus pages of legalese—and partially the result of emotional arguments raised on both sides. To shed some light on the immediate health care changes, and some important ones set to go into effect by 2014, Rodale.com turned to Diana Zuckerman, PhD, president of the National Research Center for Women & Families and its Cancer Prevention and Treatment Fund and an expert on national health policy.
Rodale.com: What are your overall thoughts on the bill?
Diana Zuckerman: There are some wonderful things in the bill. I preferred the version that passed the House of Representatives, rather than the Senate version, but the final bill is a major improvement over the healthcare system as it has been. And, contrary to some very vocal critics, it is NOT government-run health care. We will still have private insurance companies, but they will no longer be able to get away with unfair practices, such as refusing to pay for medical care for pre-existing conditions. And they will be required to include dependent children under 26 as family members in family policies. I predict that many people who had thought this bill was not worth supporting are going to be very happy when they realize that they are benefiting from the new law.
R: Do you have any specific advice for people relating to their insurance? Is there anything they can or should do right away?
DZ: Here are just a few examples. People with pre-existing health conditions that were not covered, or who have children with pre-existing health conditions, or who have dependent children under 26 who were not covered in a family plan, should check with their current insurance company to find out when the policies will change. And also check with other insurance companies to see if they are moving more quickly. The law requires these provisions to go into effect six months from now, but some companies may implement them sooner.
R: Is there anything new to take advantage of now, or in the near future?
DZ: In addition to the above examples, retirees over age 55 who are not eligible for Medicare will be eligible for affordable insurance in 90 days. Also, six months from now insurance companies will no longer be able to place lifetime limits on medical costs—an important benefit for people with expensive diseases. In 2011, there will be other new benefits, such as more affordable long-term-care insurance and 50 percent discounts on drugs for some Medicare patients.
R: Do people who don't have health insurance need to find something quickly to avoid a penalty?
DZ: Individuals won't be penalized for not buying health insurance until 2014. I know some people think requiring insurance is not a good idea. But until we do, those of us who are insured are going to pay more for health care, because those of us who pay for our own health care are also paying for uninsured adults and children who go to emergency rooms or have expensive surgery that they can't afford. When an insured person goes to an emergency room after an accident, for example, the bill she pays includes money for her medical care and also a proportion of the expensive unreimbursed care of uninsured people served in that same emergency room.
Read on to find out how smaller parts of the legislation, including the tanning tax, will affect you.
Published on: March 24, 2010
Updated on: March 25, 2010