Now that health care reform has passed the U.S. House, odds are that it will soon be law. So let's take a minute to see how the most sweeping changes in American health care in 40 years will change things for you.
- Quiz: What's your life worth?
Because insurance is at the heart of health care reform, we'll look at how it will affect those with no insurance, those with insurance at work, and those who buy their insurance elsewhere.
For the uninsuredWithout question, uninsured Americans will be most affected by health care reform. If you don't have health insurance because you're unemployed, don't make enough to afford it, or can't get coverage because of a pre-existing medical condition, by 2014 you're going to find affordable coverage, either with a subsidy or through Medicaid. The subsidy will be based on your income, but the result will be that at least 30 million people who couldn't afford insurance will theoretically be able to.
And if you have lingering doubts that this group of people really needs the government's help, check out a couple of news stories about how the uninsured suffer:
- This one is called "Killer hospital bills." It's about an uninsured woman who went to the emergency room with stomach pains and emerged hours later with a $12,000 bill.
- And here's one about a senior citizen who had to file bankruptcy because of health costs.
So the news is all good for uninsured Americans who needed and wanted coverage. But there's another group of uninsured that may not be so happy: those uninsured who can afford insurance but choose to forgo the expense by going without.
In an effort to encourage all Americans to have health insurance, beginning in 2014 the uninsured will face fines for that kind of risk-taking. The proposed fine is 2.5% of income, up to $2,085, so the incentive to have insurance will be powerful.
That covers the uninsured minority. Now let's take a look at the majority -- those Americans who currently have health insurance.
For those who get insurance at workOther than perhaps those on Medicare, Americans who get their coverage through their employer are the largest group of insured in this country. And ironically, considering all the bitter bickering over this bill, they're probably also the least affected. If you're the average Joe or Jane, you probably won't see big changes in cost or coverage from your employer-sponsored health insurance. At least not immediately.
If your employer has fewer than 50 employees, it won't be forced by fines to offer coverage; it'll be encouraged by tax breaks to do so.
Those who buy their own coverageAccording to the Congressional Budget Office, those who buy their own insurance privately could face higher prices -- up to 13% higher for a family policy, with smaller increases for an individual policy.
As you consider these changes in prices or lack thereof, however, keep in mind that determining pricing going forward is far from an exact science. While the budget office and others have estimated costs, nobody really knows at this point the combined effects of adding 30 million new people to insurance pools, removing lifetime limits, adding state insurance marketplaces, encouraging businesses to cover their employees and mandating other changes that improve coverage. Further complicating the process is the fact that major changes will be phased in over time, with most not taking place until 2014.
If you want to gain a greater understanding of changes coming under the new bill, go through the Congressional Budget Office report (.pdf file). It's not written in legalese and will help you understand a lot more.
This article was reported by Stacy Johnson for Money Talks News.