Monday, September 20, 2010

Health-reform benefits, and costs, start Thursday; poll shows most Americans still don't grasp it

The health-care reform law passed by Congress will begin taking effect Thursday, six months after passage. The complex package has been the subject of much post-passage debate and demagoguery, which is escalating as the congressional elections come closer, so this week is an ideal time to give readers, listeners and viewers an evenhanded description of the law and its ramifications. UPDATE, Sept. 20: "The nation still doesn't really know what's in it," The Associated Press reports, citing its latest poll.

Starting Thursday, when a health-insurance company writes or renews a policy, it must, for example, cover offspring of policyholders until they are 26, cover pre-existing conditions for children, allow an external appeal of its refusal to cover a service, and not include any lifetime limits on coverage. There are some exceptions, which Cheryl Powell explains in The Akron Beacon Journal. She notes that Ohio has passed related measures of its own; some other states have done likewise.

There are several independent, reliable sources for information on the health-reform law. One is the Kaiser Family Foundation, which has a summary of the law, a timeline for implementation, an explanation of how it will expand access to coverage, and other useful information. Just added to the site is an animated short movie that explains the law "to an American public still confused by how it works," the foundation says. Narrated by journalist Cokie Roberts, it explains problems in the current system, short-term changes set to take place between now and 2014, and major provisions to take effect in 2014.

Jim Gallagher, personal finance columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, has an easy-to-read listing of the changes and the important details to watch for. He also points out that when Congress passed the law, it told federal agencies to write rules filling in the details, and they're still at it. The White House website on the law is here.

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