Americans have spent the past year watching Congress get down and fight dirty over the sweeping health care reform legislation that President Obama officially signed on March 23.
It’s been an ugly fight, complete with name calling, and probably some off-screen hair pulling, and the battle is not even close to being over. As this article is being typed, twelve state’s attorney generals, all of whom are Republicans, have already filed suits to block the health care bill, labeling it an “unconstitutional” breach of ethics.
It’s arguable the biggest issue that’s been tackled since Obama took office last January, and it’s being heralded as both a sign of the coming Socialist Apocalypse and Obama’s shining legacy, depending on what side of the aisle you frequent. Either way, as Vice President Joe Biden so eloquently pointed out, this legislation is indeed “a big f- – king deal.”
That’s all very well and good, but when all the talking is done, what do these changes actually mean for the average American citizen?
In plainest terms, the legislation is meant to provide coverage for as many as 32 million people who have up until now been shut out of the market , whether because of pre-existing conditions or illnesses that caused insurers to label them as too sick, or simply because they are unable to afford increasing insurance premiums.
For those people who are already covered by a large employer – in other words, most Americans- the effect would not be nearly as significant.
“We think it’s a big step forward,” said Bill Vaughan, a policy analyst at Consumers Union. “It’s going to provide a peace of mind than many Americans who really want or need health insurance will always be able to get a quality product at a reasonable price, regardless of their health or financial situation.”
Of course, there would be costs to consumers too. Affluent families would be required to pay additional taxes, and most Americans would be required to have health insurance and would face federal penalties if they, for whatever reason, did not purchase it. It is also still unclear what effect, if any, the legislation would have on rising out-of-pocket medical costs and premiums.
For college students, the most important piece of the legislation is that dependent persons will be eligible for coverage under their parents’ plans up until the age of 26 – instead of current state-by-state rules that often cut off coverage for children between ages 19-21. These changes in policy will go into effect in roughly six months, and is, one of “the most valuable parts of the legislation” says Seileen Mullen-Murphy, the Chief Operating Officer of Martin, Blanck, and Associates. This clause is also one of the least controversial, especially when compared with other issues like abortion and a public option (neither of which made it to the final piece of legislation).
Furthermore, people in their 20’s will be given the option of buying a “catastrophic” plan that will have lower premiums. Mullen-Murphy does point out, however, that if you are listed as a dependent and you are offered health care coverage through your employer, you “can’t say, ‘oh, my mom’s coverage is better’” – you have to take it.
Though many changes won’t go into effect for several years, some will be evident much sooner. Six months after the legislation is enacted, most plans will be prohibited from placing lifetime limits on medical coverage, and likewise would not be allowed to cancel the policies of people who fall ill, or deny coverage to children with pre-existing conditions.
Many Republicans take issue with the facet of the legislation that states that those uninsured Americans who do not obtain health insurance by 2014 would face a federal penalty. The first year, consumers who did not have insurance would owe $95 – or 1% of their income, whichever was greater. For every year that they continue to go uninsured, the penalty would increase.
Uninsured people would be required to buy insurance through one of the new state-run insurance exchanges. People with incomes of more than 133 % of the federal poverty level, or about $29,327 for a family of four, would be eligible.
After a year of watching Congress scratch and claw at each other, it remains to be seen how these changes to the health care system will play out for citizens. But, as Mullen-Murphy points out, “this isn’t really health care reform – it’s more like health insurance reform…but it has to start somewhere.”
It’s kind of comforting actually, to think that no matter what you believe, for the moment, Tea Party Activists and Ted Kennedy enthusiasts alike, we’re all in the same boat.
All we can do is wait, and see what happens.