The federal government has unveiled proposed rules under health care reform that will have broad implications for states, health insurance companies, small businesses and uninsured Americans within the next 12 months.
In a conference call with reporters last week, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius spelled out the long-awaited "essential health benefits" that insurers must include in their individual plans when state health insurance exchanges open Jan. 1, 2014. Insurers have been anxiously awaiting the definitions in order to finalize the policies they'll offer when open enrollment begins next October.
The rules specify that 10 categories of benefits be included in all individual and small-group policies but leave it to each state to set its own benefit minimums. The categories include: ambulatory services; emergency services; hospitalization; laboratory services; maternity and newborn care; mental health and substance abuse services; pediatric services; prescription drugs; preventive and wellness care and chronic disease management; and rehabilitative and "habilitative" services for conditions such as autism and cerebral palsy.
The rules also prohibit insurers from denying coverage due to a preexisting condition or charging higher premiums due to occupation, current or past health problems, or gender. Studies show that women often pay more for health insurance than men.
The feds have provided more guidance to employer-based wellness programs, giving employers greater leeway to offer larger rewards to employees who quit smoking or adopt healthier lifestyles. And the rules protect employees from unfair underwriting practices that could reduce their benefits because of health issues.
In addition, Sebelius extended until Dec. 14 the deadline for states to inform HHS whether they plan to set up their own state health exchanges, which are designed to offer individuals and small businesses easy-to-shop-for health insurance at subsidized rates. To date, roughly 17 states have committed to set up their own exchanges. Those that don't can choose to partner with the federal government or allow the feds to establish and operate the state's exchange, which is required under health care reform.
About half of the nation's 30 million uninsured are expected to purchase health insurance through the exchanges, while the remainder would be covered under the federal-state Medicaid program for low-income Americans.
Recent reports from states that have opposed the Affordable Care Act indicate that some may be reassessing their options now that the law's sponsor-in-chief, President Barack Obama, has been re-elected.
Want to become involved? You have 30 to 60 days to comment on the proposals before they become final.
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