JULIA PATTERSON: Here’s help understanding federal healthcare reform

If you’re like me, you probably still have questions about the federal healthcare reform bill. Through the media, many of us have heard that pre-existing conditions no longer prevent people from getting or keeping health insurance. Still others may be aware that their children under 26 are now eligible to be covered under their health insurance plan, and that it closes the Medicare Part D “donut hole” for seniors.

If you’re like me, you probably still have questions about the federal healthcare reform bill. Through the media, many of us have heard that pre-existing conditions no longer prevent people from getting or keeping health insurance. Still others may be aware that their children under 26 are now eligible to be covered under their health insurance plan, and that it closes the Medicare Part D “donut hole” for seniors.

I’ve gotten calls and e-mails from many of you and have talked with my neighbors and friends about healthcare. These conversations led me to do some research about healthcare reform that I hope helps you better understand the legislation.

What are the local benefits of health care reform? How will I notice the changes in my area?

Health Insurance: First, healthcare reform will result in insurance being available for all, and in fact mandated like automobile insurance. There are 153,000 adults that are uninsured in King County (12.5 percent) and most of them (excluding illegal immigrants) will have access to health insurance by 2014. This will be available either through Medicaid expansion, individual insurance plans or small business plans.

While our state has made great strides in insuring children, approximately 4 percent of our children are still uninsured. These children will all be insured by 2019.

Community Health Centers: One of SeaTac, Renton and Kent’s great assets is our HealthPoint community health centers, where anyone, regardless of income level or job status, can receive preventative care and dental services. The healthcare reform law recognizes the importance of these trusted community centers by including funding to help them nearly double the amount of patients they see. Because there will be so many more people accessing health care services, it is important to expand services at these cost efficient community centers, rather than seeing many of the newly insured attempting to use expensive emergency room services for routine care.

Nutrition Labeling: Our local Board of Health passed menu nutrition labeling legislation in 2007 for those of us who live in King County, but the rest of the nation does not have access to nutrition information. The healthcare reform law requires chains with 20-plus restaurants of the same name to provide nutrition information, which will lead the nation forward in our attempt to make better informed, healthier decisions when they are dining out.

What you will notice locally is the addition of nutrition labeling at grocery store delis, convenience stores, vending machines, and buffets. These changes won’t occur for two or three years, due to the time it takes to work with businesses in order to reach agreement on how and where to label food.

What does it cost and how will we pay for it?

Costs: Health care reform will cost the government about $938 billion over a 10-year period according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office.

Expected Savings: The Congressional Budget Office anticipates that healthcare reform is anticipated to reduce the federal deficit by $143 billion over 10 years.  A large-amount of the savings are expected to come from a reduction in direct spending, including permanent reductions in what the federal government will pay service providers for most Medicare services and lower growth in Medicare costs.

How we will pay: We will pay for healthcare through a combination of savings from Medicaid and Medicare (as health care costs go down) and new taxes and fees. For example, there will an excise tax on high-cost health plans, a tax on indoor tanning, fees on pharmaceutical companies, and an increased hospital tax on high-wage workers that will be phased in between now and 2018.

No Unreasonable Rate Hikes: Insurance companies must submit justification to our state Insurance Commissioner each time they request an increase in premiums. They can no longer willy-nilly impose rate hikes without a thorough review and approval.

No Lifetime or Annual Limit: Insurance companies can no longer limit the amount of care you can receive each year, or over the course of your life.

If you have additional questions, please call or e-mail my office. I’ve also included some helpful links on my Web site.

Julia Patterson of SeaTac represents the King County Council’s Fifth District, which includes part of Renton. She can be reached at julia.patterson@kingcounty.gov.


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