Ninety days after signing the landmark health care reform law, President Barack Obama's administration has released a "Patients' Bill of Rights." The rules take effect Sept. 23 and are a reminder that government can quickly improve people's lives. They should give pause to any House or Senate candidate planning to spend the summer attacking health care reform. Americans now have more rights to access affordable care, and that won't be relinquished easily.
The rules will impact most Americans at renewal time, which is January for most employer-sponsored insurance plans. The changes include:
• Most children under 19 with pre-existing medical conditions cannot be denied coverage.
• Policies can't have annual caps lower than $750,000, and $2 million by 2014. Lifetime caps will be prohibited.
• Women won't need a referral to visit an obstetrician or gynecologist.
• Insurers won't be able to rescind a policy for a technicality, such as an unintentional mistake on an application.
• Insurers won't be able to require approval before a policyholder obtains emergency care outside the provider network.
These changes come on the heels of earlier changes already embraced by insurers. Under the law, parents will be able to cover their adult children under their policy until age 26. Many insurers have already offered the coverage ahead of the law's taking effect.
Tens of thousands of seniors have received $250 checks to help cover the "doughnut hole" in Medicare Part D coverage.
Americans still don't know the specific impact reform will have on their pocketbooks, though the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office predicted little impact on group premiums, which account for 83 percent of policies. But a Keiser Family Foundation survey released last week found the status quo was also dangerous. Insurers, before the bill's passage, were increasing rates on individual policyholders an average of 20 percent. Obama warned insurance executives in a White House meeting Tuesday that their actions will be closely monitored. And there are encouraging signs that states are taking seriously their role in vetting rate increases, in some cases rejecting them.
The debate over health care reform was an ugly one. But now the real impact is being felt and Americans are benefitting.