A lot of talk surrounding health care reform signed into law last month has focused on big changes coming in a few years. Such promises do little to help consumers who are at risk now of a financial meltdown resulting from high, out-of-pocket medical costs.

However, those living in fear of the health care bogeyman should take heart. These nine major provisions of health care reform right from the law should help to protect your family’s coverage right away.

1. Pre-existing conditions phase out for kids.

Covers: Families with children.
Starts: Sept. 23, 2010.
What it does: Health insurance companies are banned from withholding coverage from children based on pre-existing conditions. Until 2014, insurers can still use such conditions as grounds for increasing parents’ premiums. They just can’t refuse coverage for their children.

2. Canceling coverage after the fact is no longer allowed.

Covers: All insured individuals.
Starts: Sept. 23, 2010.
What it does: The health insurance industry practice of retroactively canceling coverage based on mistakes or omissions in a patient’s original application, known in the industry as rescission, will be illegal unless fraud takes place. Consumers won’t have to worry about losing their coverage because of an error in paperwork.

3. Temporary high-risk pools will cover those with pre-existing conditions.

Covers: Adults with pre-existing conditions, making it difficult to find insurance.
Starts: June 21, 2010.
What it does: Health care reform provides a stop-gap, high-risk insurance pool for adults with pre-existing conditions that prevent them from buying insurance in the current market. Consumers who enroll in this pool will pay premiums similar to those paid by customers with no pre-existing conditions in the individual insurance market. Still, there will be variations based on age and lifestyle choices. Co-pays and deductibles will be limited to the current health savings account maximums of $5,950 for an individual and $11,900 for a family.

4. Parents’ insurance plans can cover young adult children longer.

Covers: Young adults under the age of 26.
Starts: Sept. 23, 2010.
What it does: Before reform, young adults who reached the age of 19 were no longer eligible for coverage under their parents’ insurance plans unless they were enrolled in high school or college. With health care reform, parents’ insurance will cover their offspring up to age 26, allowing thousands of young adults without coverage to sidestep the pricey individual insurance market.

5. Health care reform begins to fill the Medicare Part D ‘doughnut hole.’

Covers: Seniors covered by Medicare Part D.Starts: Retroactive to Jan. 1, 2010.
What it does: The health care reform law raises the ceiling on initial government coverage by $500, shrinking out-of-pocket costs for seniors for their medication in 2010. Seniors that reach this increased limit will be mailed a $250 rebate check.

6. Lifetime limits on insurance benefits banned.

Covers: All insured individuals.
Starts: Sept. 23, 2010.
What it does: Insurance companies can no longer impose a lifetime limit on benefits. Those struck by catastrophic and expensive illnesses need not worry about treatment grinding to a halt or having to pay huge out-of-pocket costs because their health insurance coverage runs out.

7. Deductibles are eliminated for certain preventive care.

Covers: All insured individuals.
Starts: Sept. 23, 2010.
What it does: Insured consumers will no longer have to pay deductibles for some types of preventive care, including vaccines and some screenings considered key for their age and demographic. You can find out what services are free for you by going to the United States Preventive Services Task Force Web site and filling out a short form.

8. Small businesses get tax credits for offering health insurance.

Covers: Small-business owners and employees.
Starts: Retroactively applied to the tax year ending Dec. 31, 2010.
What it does: More small-business workers will likely be offered health insurance by their employers, greatly reducing their out-of-pocket costs. For their part, small-business owners can get substantial tax credits that cover up to 35 percent of their contributions to employee health care premiums in 2010 through 2013 and up to 50 percent in 2014 and beyond.

9. An appeals process will deal with denied claims.

Covers: All insured individuals.
Starts: Sept. 23, 2010.
What it does: The new law requires insurance plans to create a process for consumers to challenge denials of coverage and other decisions that adversely affect them. Plans will be required to inform customers about the process and how it works in clear, easy-to-understand terms.

10. Help for employers to cover retirees not yet on Medicare.

Covers: Early retirees over 55 but too young for Medicare.
Starts: June 21, 2010.
What it does: Health insurance reform establishes a re-insurance pool to help employers cover the cost of insuring retirees over age 55 but under the eligible age for Medicare. The fund will pay most of the cost for retiree claims until Jan. 1, 2014.

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