Seven quick fixes to health care
What would happen soon if the health-care overhaul passes.
By Ryan Teague Beckwith
To hear the rhetoric on both sides, you'd think the health-care overhaul in the Senate would change the U.S. system overnight.
In reality, most of the changes — such as the new health insurance exchanges and insurance mandates for individuals — would not take place until 2014 (or 2013 in the House version).
Still, a few provisions are set to begin next year, if the legislation passes.
Some of the most significant changes would extend existing programs and rules in order to immediately reduce the number of uninsured Americans. Others would end unpopular practices in the private insurance industry.
The measures are designed to build immediate support for the longer-term provisions in the bills, which could still be changed by future legislation. They will also provide President Barack Obama and Congressional Democrats with talking points going into the 2010 elections.
If the bill passes, expect to hear a lot more about these provisions in the near future.
Below, a few of the immediate changes:
* Insuring high-risk citizens. Both bills would create a $5 billion fund for temporary insurance for citizens with pre-existing conditions who have not been insured for at least six months. The program would end once the insurance exchanges begin in 2013 or 2014.
* Extending insurance for adult children. The House bill would allow parents to keep unmarried adult children on their health insurance until their 27th birthday; the Senate bill, until their 26th birthday. This would reduce the number of uninsured young adults.
* Extending insurance for the recently unemployed. Under current law, laid-off workers are allowed to continue buying their existing insurance through the COBRA program for up to 18 months. The bills would extend that coverage until the insurance exchanges begin.
* Ending lifetime limits on benefits. Both bills would end the lifetime caps on insurance coverage which have sometimes been used to deny payments to consumers with particularly expensive treatments. Both bills would also restrict annual limits on health-care benefits.
* Ending rescission. Insurance companies often cancel policies for consumers who require expensive medical care because they made honest mistakes on their medical histories. Both bills would prohibit insurance plans from canceling coverage except in cases of fraud.
* Starting to close the doughnut hole. Both bills would begin closing the so-called "doughnut hole" in Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage by providing an additional $500 in coverage starting in 2010. Over several years, the gap would be reduced until it was closed entirely.
* Taxing plastic surgery. The Senate bill would include a new 5 percent tax on elective cosmetic surgery. The tax is estimated to raise $5.8 billion over the next 10 years. It does not apply to cosmetic surgery to fix problems caused by accidents, disease or birth defects.
Ryan Teague Beckwith is deputy editor of Congress.org.