Much to Celebrate after First Two Years of Health Law

MaryLou Beaver is the State Director of Every Child Matters, New Hampshire.
Lisa Kaplan Howe, Esq. is the Policy Director for NH Voices for Health.

This week will mark the second anniversary of the Affordable Care Act, the landmark health reform initiative that strengthens our health care system with broad consumer protections and expanded access to coverage, and which also sparked national dialogue about health policy in our country.

In the two years since President Obama signed the bill into law, many of the new benefits have gone into effect. Simultaneously, debate has continued, with the U.S. Supreme Court scheduled to hear oral arguments regarding the law during the last week in March.

No matter which side of the debate you are on, one thing is certain – the Affordable Care Act is working for New Hampshire children and families. Here are just a few of the ways:

Insurers can no longer refuse to insure children with serious illnesses.  Insurance companies are no longer allowed to deny or exclude coverage for children based on a pre-existing condition such as asthma or diabetes. This reform means that 16,100 New Hampshire children who have been diagnosed with conditions that could have resulted in denials of coverage are now protected.

In two more years, that protection will extend to more than one in four New Hampshire adults, when a similar provision goes into effect for the rest of us. This will increase coverage options for 217,900 Granite Staters who currently can be denied insurance or face higher premiums for anything from being a cancer survivor to having high blood pressure.

Children under age 26 can stay on a parent’s insurance.  Even if your children are married or live on their own, your children can stay on your plan until they turn 26 so long as it covers dependents. This Affordable Care Act provision builds on a previous New Hampshire reform, which together are ensuring that an estimated 11,900 of our young adults are eligible to remain on family coverage. Being on a health plan means coverage for unexpected health needs and also for routine care; something that will reduce health problems and costs in the later years of these young adults.
Free preventive services.  Another short and long-term health savings is requiring insurance plans to cover preventive care for children and adults; the same protection applies to seniors in the Medicare program. These range from wellness visits and immunizations, to a whole host of screenings – developmental ones for children and blood pressure, cholesterol and cervical cancer for adults, just to name a few. “First-dollar” preventive care means that health plans must cover these benefits without requiring co-payments, deductibles or co-insurance, an immediate and long-term pocketbook savings for families.

Insurance companies are held accountable – and you receive a rebate if they aren’t spending your money on care.  If New Hampshire insurance companies don’t spend at least 75 percent of your insurance premium on medical care rather than advertising, bonuses for executives and other administrative spending, they will have to provide you a rebate. That percentage ratio will go up to 80 percent next year. The first rebates will begin this summer, and an online list will allow you to monitor how your insurance company is doing.

Additionally, starting last fall, insurance companies are required to publicly justify any plan to raise rates by more than 10 percent. In New Hampshire, this new requirement dovetails nicely with state-based annual public hearings on premium cost drivers.

Insurance companies can’t limit your care. On another, but related note, under the health care law insurers can no longer impose lifetime dollar limits on your coverage, and annual limits are being phased out by 2014. This will prevent people with cancer or other chronic illnesses from running out of insurance coverage when they most need it most.

These provisions are just a few of many that have taken effect in the first two years of the Affordable Care Act; we didn’t even mention small business tax credits or most Medicare improvements.

By the year 2014, most of the law will be fully implemented. Considering the incredible advances made in just the first two years, we can only express excitement about what it will mean for Granite Staters once the law is completely enacted. Over the next 24 months there will be continued improvements in coverage and cost – and to the health care system more broadly – and a concerted effort to expand access to more of our community members.

Halfway to the goal, on this second anniversary of the Affordable Care Act, we celebrate the achievements to date and what is yet to come.

MaryLou Beaver is the State Director of Every Child Matters, New Hampshire.

Lisa Kaplan Howe, Esq. is the Policy Director for NH Voices for Health.