The U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear arguments later this month about the federal health care-reform law, and is expected to decide the law's future this summer. While the court mulls the constitutionality of an individual mandate to buy health insurance, "implementation marches on, and a number of notable changes will take effect for consumers this year," writes Michelle Andrews for Kaiser Health News.
If the high court strikes down the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, "all bets are off," Andrews writes. Popular provisions, such as allowing children to stay on their parents' insurance until age 26 and the 50 percent discount on brand-name drugs for seniors under the prescription drug doughnut hole, could be eliminated — and provisions set to take effect this year could be cancelled. But, if the Supreme Court does not invalidate the entire law, here's a list of new provisions consumers can expect this year:
Free contraception coverage: "Women in a new health plan or in an existing one that has changed its benefits enough to not be considered grandfathered under the law will be able to receive contraceptives without an out-of-pocket charge," Andrews writes. Insurance plans will also have to provide basic health services for women, including screening for gestational diabetes; HPV testing; STD counseling; screening and testing for HIV; and screening and counseling for interpersonal and domestic violence. Religious employers such as churches are exempt from the new regulation, but colleges, hospitals and other employers that are religiously affiliated are not — though they do have a one-year grace period to implement it. Employees of those institutions will receive their free benefit from their employer's insurance.
Consumer rebates: Under the law, insurance companies have to spend at least 80 to 85 of their premium revenues on medical claims and quality improvement. If they don't, they have to pay the difference to policyholders, which, in most plans, means the employer. If the provision had been in place in 2010, an analysis by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners estimated that would have meant $2 billion going to consumers. In December, the Obama administration said that about 9 million Americans could receive rebates that added up to $1.4 billion.
Clearer descriptions: Starting in September, all health plans will have to give consumers benefits information that is easy to understand. "Every plan will be required to give people a short summary of coverage and a uniform glossary of terms," Andrews reports. "It will also have to provide examples of how much the plan would cover if someone had a baby or was managing Type 2 diabetes — two common situations that should make it easier for people to compare plans."
Smaller doughnut hole: "This is the break in Medicare prescription drug benefits that, in a standard plan, begins after total drug spending by the beneficiary and the health plan exceeds $2,930 and continues until the beneficiary has hit the $4,700 out-of-pocket limit," Andrews reports. Last year, people on Medicare with high drug costs got a 50 percent discount on brand-name drugs once they reached the doughnut hole. This year, they'll also get a 14 percent discount on generic drugs. (Read more)