Reform gives vital benefits to US patients

It has been just more than six months since the new health insurance reform law was signed by President Obama, and many new patient protections have already begun to take effect, ending some of the worst abuses of insurance companies and giving Americans important new rights.

Under the Affordable Care Act, Americans with health insurance will have more security. Insurance plans will no longer be able to set lifetime dollar limits on your benefits. And your plan won’t be able to cancel your policy because of an unintentional mistake on your paperwork.

Plans will no longer be able to refuse to sell you a policy because your child has asthma, autism or some other pre-existing medical condition. Young adults who don’t get insurance through their jobs will be able to stay on their parents’ policy until their 26th birthday. And plans created or purchased after the Affordable Care Act was enacted will have to cover recommended preventive care such as immunizations and routine physicals at no extra charge.

The law also creates the Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan to make health insurance available if you have been denied coverage by private insurance companies because of a pre-existing condition. 

As these reforms take effect, they also serve as a bridge until 2014, when still more important benefits of the new law kick in. The new law will create new competitive health insurance marketplaces called Exchanges that will allow families and small businesses to purchase affordable insurance — the same coverage as members of Congress — regardless of their health status. To make sure coverage is affordable, millions of Americans will get the largest middle-class tax cut for healthcare in American history.

These benefits will make a huge difference in the lives of Americans across the country.

The Appleton, Wis., family whose seven-year-old son Sami has neurofibromatosis will no longer have to dread the day when their medical expenses hit their insurance policy’s lifetime cap.

Cathy from Marblehead, Ohio, diagnosed with Systemic Lupus, does not have to worry about losing her business or retirement because of the expenses from her illness; she is now enrolled in the Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan.

And Josh, the graduate student from Nazareth, Pa., can stay on his parents’ policy until his 26th birthday. By 2014, he’ll be able to shop in the new Exchange, where insurers will be prohibited from denying people coverage because of their pre-existing medical conditions.

If you want to find out more about the Affordable Care Act, you can visit our new consumer website, which has detailed information about how the new law will help you. If you own a small business, you can learn about the tax credits that might be available to help you provide coverage to your employees. And if you or someone you know is on Medicare, the website has information about the more than one million rebate checks we have already mailed out to help seniors and people with disabilities afford their medications.

And using the site’s new Insurance Finder will allow you to see all your health insurance options in one place for the first time ever. The Insurance Finder includes information from public insurance programs and more than 4,400 private health plans offered by more than 225 insurers across all 50 states and the District of Columbia — and it’s all personalized to you.

In addition to giving you the base price for the insurance plans available to you, you can see new details such as the percentage of people who are quoted a rate higher than the basic premium based on their health status. And you can see what percentage of people were turned down when they tried to buy that plan. 

This information will give you some sense of how different insurance companies change pricing and accept or deny coverage for individuals. Until now, that kind of information had never been available to consumers. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, it’s now just a few clicks away.

The Affordable Care Act is already making an enormous difference in the lives of millions of other Americans around the country. And we’ll continue to deliver the benefits of reform to the American people.

Sebelius is the secretary of Health and Human Services