>By REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN posted at Politico.com
Six months ago, President Barack Obama signed the new health reform legislation that will bring down health care costs for American families and small businesses, expand health coverage to an additional 32 million Americans and end the widespread abuses in the health insurance industry. The Affordable Care Act is the most groundbreaking reform of health care coverage since Medicare. It reduces the deficit by $1.2 trillion in the next 20 years, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.
Americans are already benefiting from several important provisions that have taken effect. More than 4 million small businesses are eligible for $40 billion in tax credits, helping them offer employee health insurance coverage. Children with pre-existing conditions who have long been denied coverage now have access to a health plan in every state, including Maryland. Seniors in the Medicare Part D program are now receiving an annual supplement of $250 as the first installment toward closing the notorious “doughnut hole.” No longer will seniors be forced to choose between food or heat and lifesaving medications. Early retirees are also benefiting, because the program helps employers continue their health coverage.
This week, some crucial health care consumer protections begin. This new Patients’ Bill of Rights helps Americans obtain better care, lower their costs and improve their health coverage security.
Health insurance companies will no longer be able to drop people’s coverage when they get sick and need health care the most. Young adults — the largest population of uninsured Americans before passage of this law — can now remain on their parents’ health insurance plan until their 26th birthday. Health plans can no longer impose lifetime limits on coverage, and annual limits are to be phased out over three years — a dramatic change for families, because more than 60 percent of people who declared bankruptcy in 2007 cited medical bills as a reason, and medical costs have only increased since.
Over time, the Affordable Care Act will prohibit insurance companies from denying anyone coverage based on pre-existing conditions, create insurance exchanges so that Americans have the same health plan choices as members of Congress and implement the biggest tax cut for health care in U.S. history to ensure that middle-class families can afford insurance. The new law puts Americans, not the health insurance companies, in charge of their own health care.
Unfortunately, Washington Republicans want to repeal the law and take away these important consumer protections and benefits. Under their plan, things would grow worse and the deficit would increase. The CBO found that the Republicans’ plan would increase the number of uninsured to 52 million — higher than today.
The Republican plan would also make coverage unaffordable for millions of Americans, eliminate tax credits that help people cover their premiums and remove assistance to small businesses that offer coverage for their employees.
I am proud that these reforms, enacted by Congress, are helping make a difference in Americans’ lives today, and I am committed to ensuring the legislation is implemented successfully.
To learn more about these provisions and other ways that health reform will help you, please visit http://www.healthcare.gov/.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) serves as assistant to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and is chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.