By U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow
For nearly 100 years, American presidents, from Teddy Roosevelt to Richard Nixon to Bill Clinton, all tried to pass comprehensive health insurance reform. That’s why it’s so significant that last week, Congress passed, and President Obama signed, the historic Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
Our current health system is bankrupting too many families and costing Michigan jobs. Given the economic hardships facing Michigan businesses and families, this legislation comes at a critical time for our state.
This year, a number of changes will go into effect to protect families from insurance company abuses and help people get the health care they need.
Starting right now, many small businesses with 25 or fewer employees will qualify for a tax cut of up to 35 percent for the money they spend on premiums.
Senior citizens are also going to receive much-needed help with the high cost of prescription drugs. The Medicare drug plan has a coverage gap, called the “doughnut hole,” which means that seniors have to pay the full cost of their drugs when they hit a certain level. The gap is closed completely over time, but this year, any senior who hits that cap will get a $250 rebate to help them pay for their medicine. There are also important savings for early retirees (age 55 to 64) through a new federal partnership that will share medical costs.
Around October, there’s good news for young people who will now be able to stay on their parents insurance until they turn 26. Also, new measures will go into effect protecting patients from insurance company abuses. The Affordable Care Act includes a “health care bill of rights” to make sure that your insurance company cannot cancel your coverage just because you get sick, or hit a lifetime cap on coverage. It also ensures that children cannot be excluded from health insurance coverage because of a “pre-existing condition.”
The federal government will immediately begin investing in community health centers. In Michigan, 184 communities have health centers that provide high-quality health care to over 400,000 people who currently don’t have insurance. Also, adults with “pre-existing conditions” will have a new option for purchasing insurance through a special fund.
There is also a new focus on preventing health problems and keeping us healthy We know that many chronic illnesses, which are very expensive to treat, can be prevented with checkups and screenings. That’s why the Affordable Care Act will allow you to get free preventive care with no co-pays or deductibles starting in six months.
There are also important new requirements on insurance companies that they must spend the vast majority of every dollar you pay them (80 to 85 percent) on your medical care or give you a refund!
It’s important to note that the bipartisan Congressional Budget Office and 43 leading health economists have agreed that this new law will reduce the deficit by over $140 billion in the next 10 years. In the ten years after that, they estimate it will cut the deficit by $1.2 trillion.
Between now and 2014, a health care exchange will be put in place to give families affordable health care options. If you are one of the 60 percent of Americans who gets their health insurance through their employer, you will be able to keep the insurance you have. Families and small businesses will be given significant tax cuts to provide health insurance for their employees, and Medicaid will guarantee that if you lose your job, your family won’t be without health care. And, while everyone will be required to have health insurance in 2014, it’s also important to know that you will not be required to purchase insurance if you can’t afford it.
While passage of the Affordable Care Act may have made history in our country, the real historic change will be the millions of people and small businesses who will now be able to provide health insurance for their families and employees.
I invite you to visit my Web site, stabenow.senate.gov, to learn about the details of health insurance reform and how it affects you and your family.