Preventative health care costs to dropHealth care costs going down? It may seem that the impossible is happening, but it's true.

The government announced some of the regulations for the new health care plans that take effect September 23 as part of the health care reform legislation, and not only will the plans pay for routine preventative services -- including cancer screenings, routine vaccinations, pre-natal care, and wellness visits for infants and children -- but co-pays are being eliminated.

Some insurance company plans have previously offered some of the services without co-pays, but come September 23, all new health plans in the U.S. will have to include them in any coverage.

People who have group or company plans will get the new benefits whenever any major change is made in their plan.

The cheaper screenings are one part of the health care reform's efforts to reduce overall health care costs by catching potential health problems far earlier.

"Today, too many Americans do not get the high-quality preventive care they need to stay healthy, avoid or delay the onset of disease, lead productive lives, and reduce health care costs," said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius in a statement.

"These new regulations are very important," said Kathleen Stoll, director of health policy of FamiliesUSA, which looks at health policy issues. She said they move health insurance toward more of "a wellness focus."

Few individual policies have that focus now. While some large employers offer coverage for free annual physicals and related
blood tests, Stoll believes the regulations "will accelerate that trend."

"We have seen employers moving to providing colonoscopies, mammographies, and screening tests. It will push that trend forward," she said in an interview with WalletPop.

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, praised the new regulations. "Today's regulations remove a major obstacle for millions of Americans trying to do the right things to stay healthy," he said in a statement.

"Each year, an untold number of adults and children go without mammograms, colonoscopies, developmental screenings, immunizations and other crucial screenings because of the cost. This announcement means that cost-effective preventive services such as cancer screenings, nutrition counseling and tobacco cessation programs will become accessible to the patients who need them. Health professionals will be able to offer these services to you before you get a chronic disease such as cancer or emphysema."

It was also praised by a group that had pushed for the new health care reform law.

"This rule marks a significant milestone in the implementation of the new health care law, and it's a powerful reminder that reform is about results, not rhetoric," said Ethan Rome, executive director of Health Care for America Now. "Making preventive care available and affordable to everyone is a commonsense way to improve peoples' lives while achieving long-term cost savings. In the first year, the rule extends affordable preventive care to 41 million people, with nearly 90 million people covered by this new benefit by 2013."

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