From my personal point of view, this train has been delayed for decades, especially taking into consideration that the United States is the only industrialized nation that does not offer universal health coverage to most of its citizens, or at least guarantee access to such coverage.
According to the information gleaned from articles and online sources, I understand that some of the salient points are thus:
- Parents will be able to keep dependent adult children on their health plans through age 26, and this benefit (which will necessitate an extra fee) will be enacted almost immediately.
- Beginning in 2014, Americans with employer-based health plans who lose their jobs will be able to buy their own (hopefully affordable) insurance without being denied or charged extra due to pre-existing conditions.
- Apparently, chronically ill children will be covered almost immediately, and chronically ill adults may have access to certain pools of coverage quite soon.
- An expansion of Medicaid coverage for the poor now seems to be a certainty after 2014.
- Some tax credits for small businesses will make it easier for coverage to be offered to be employees, and this reform may also be enacted rather soon.
- Medicaid will be expanded to cover an additional 16 million poor Americans.
- Price gouging by insurance companies due to pre-existing conditions will no longer be allowed by the new regulations.
- Insurance companies will no longer be able to cancel the policies of consumers who become ill, a practice that has become all too common.
- Insurance companies will also no longer be able to place a spending cap on the amount of money they are willing to spend on a consumer in any given year (or perhaps over a lifetime).
- In six months, all new health plans will have to cover the full cost of all preventive care.
- Beginning July 1st of this year, low-income seniors on Medicare will enjoy a 50% discount on brand-name drugs.
- By 2019, it seems that more than 90% of Americans will have health care coverage of some kind.
- Most importantly, it seems that reforms of Medicare and Medicaid are in the works, and a complicated array of regulatory reforms may indeed change the face of health care in this country by cutting costs, streamlining the delivery and payment system, and reining in health care inflation.
It is disgraceful that so many millions of Americans still live without health insurance. Due to the cost of medical care, homes are foreclosed, jobs are lost, lives are destroyed, and the most basic and important health maintenance screenings (like PAP smears, prostate exams and annual physicals) are missed due to lack of insurance coverage.
With both houses of Congress passing this historic legislation, the health care reform train has indeed left the station. There's no doubt that there will be many arguments and problems along the way, but there now exists the true probability that, within our lifetimes, all Americans will enjoy what the citizens of other industrialized nations have enjoyed for decades.
To read 10 things that every American should know about health care reform according to MoveOn.org, please click here.