There were a lot of people who were relieved to see President Obama's health care reform bill go through on March 25. But there are even more people who are confused about what it all means for them -- at least based on the calls to ehealthinsurance.com's expert advice hotline. The company says they've received hundreds of thousands of calls from consumers, 80,000 of which came in in March. Most of the help-seekers are asking questions about when the bill takes effect and what changes they're going to see, but many are under the impression that they're going to get coverage for free, says Carrie McLean, a consumer specialist for the company.
"We actually started to get calls right when President Obama was elected from people thinking that things were going to change instantly. Once the bill passed, we started to get calls into our call center from people wanting to know if they were going to have 'free Obama care.' People are confused about what the bill means, and what's in it."
Unfortunately, nothing in the bill constitutes a free lunch. There is, however, going to be a program set up for low-income families, says McLean, so that they'll receive a subsidy for purchasing their health insurance, and the bill dedicates $5 billion to funding high-risk pools until insurance companies are banned from denying coverage for adults with preexisting conditions in 2014. If you have a pre-existing condition, and you've been turned down by an insurance company, you'll be able to purchase coverage through this pool (many states already have high-risk pools in place; this provision of the bill essentially expands on those programs).
If you're confused about the changes health care reform is bringing – and when they're going to take effect – here's quick run through:
* Two provisions of the bill will get into motion six months after its enactment, in September. The first dictates that health insurance companies can no longer deny children under 19 coverage because of pre-existing conditions. The second allows dependents up to age 26 to be on their parent's health insurance plan, regardless of whether they're in school.
* The federal high-risk pool is to take effect within 90 days of the bill's enactment, so we should be hearing specifics soon, says McLean. "The details are still being worked out, and there isn't yet a number or place you can go to see if you qualify. As soon as we get information, we'll be educating people on how they can look into this option." Keep your ears open for news in the meantime.
* In 2014, everyone will be required to purchase health insurance, and states will have exchanges in place so people can compare and buy plans. People who are purchasing insurance on their own who do not earn more than 400 percent of the poverty level (that's about $44,000 for individuals and $88,000 for a family of four in 2009) will be eligible to receive subsidies to help them pay for coverage. Insurance companies will also no longer be allowed to deny adults, ages 19 – 64, who have pre-existing conditions.
The one thing you should understand about all of these changes is that they're going to take time. "If you have health insurance now, you need to keep what you have. We don't want people to go uninsured thinking that these changes are immediate, because of course that's when something will happen," says McLean. For instance, if you or your child is under 26 and you've run the numbers to figure out that it would be cheaper to consolidate plans, don't cancel the old plan until he or she is safely insured under the new.
Oh, and if you still have questions, don't call me -- call ehealthinsurance.com at 800-977-8860. Believe it or not, they're still there to help.
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