Proposed taxes and fees on upper-income earners, insurers, even tanning parlors, take effect quickly. So would Medicare cuts.
Benefits, such as subsidies for lower middle-income households, consumer protections for all, eliminating the prescription coverage gap for seniors, come gradually.
"There's going to be an expectations gap, no question about that," said Drew Altman, president of the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation. "People are going to see their premiums and out-of-pocket costs go up before the tangible benefits kick in."
Most of the 30 million uninsured helped by the bill won't get coverage until 2013 at the earliest, well after the next presidential election.
More than two-thirds of Americans get their coverage through large employer plans and their premiums won't go up because of the legislation, according to number crunchers at the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.
But Congress can't abolish medical inflation, so don't hold your breath waiting for premiums to drop.
For people who buy their own insurance policies -- about one of every six Americans -- premiums will go up. But that's for better benefits prescribed under the legislation. And about half of them would get tax credits to substantially lower their costs. . .
The final package could end up looking like the Medicare prescription drug benefit, delivered through private insurance companies, but subsidized and regulated by the government.
Just like seniors now pick their drug coverage from a range of private plans, Americans who were previously uninsured would select brand-name coverage through a new kind of insurance supermarket called an exchange. Like seniors today, they would have to pay part of the cost themselves. Most people with employer coverage wouldn't need to go to the exchange.
The exchanges could be national, regional, or state-based. They'd be up and running in 2013 under the House bill, a year later in the Senate version. Around that same time, other major changes would snap into place:
- Health insurance companies would be prohibited from denying coverage to people with health problems, or charging them more.
- For the first time, Americans would be required to carry health insurance, either through an employer, Medicare or Medicaid, or by buying it themselves. Refusal would bring fines, except in cases of financial hardship.
- Federal subsidies would start flowing to individuals and small businesses buying coverage in the exchange, helping them afford the premiums.
- Most employers would be required to offer coverage or pay a tax under the House bill. In the Senate version, employers would get a bill if any of their workers got subsidized coverage in the exchange.
- Medicaid coverage would be expanded to pick up millions more living near the poverty line.
Debated since President Harry Truman's administration, health care overhaul would finally be in place. An estimated 94-96 percent of Americans, not counting illegal immigrants, would have coverage.
But there's a catch.
Cost is the Achilles heel of the whole complicated undertaking. To keep the cost of the bill at around $1 trillion over 10 years, lawmakers had to limit subsidies for people seeking coverage through the exchange.
The aid tapers off dramatically for households with solid middle-class incomes. A family of four making $66,000 a year would still have to spend about 10 percent of its income on premiums -- less than a mortgage but more than a car payment. And that's without counting co=payments and deductible. Several million otherwise eligible Americans could still be priced out.
Labels: HEALTH INSURANCE