Rep. Allyson Schwartz describes the benefits of the health-care reform law

Posted: September 28, 2010

ON SEPT. 23, families in Northeast Philadelphia and across the country began to see firsthand the benefits of the new health-care reform law. Together, we can celebrate these changes and know that, starting now, we will put an end to some of the most egregious insurance-company practices that have kept you and your family from being in control of your health care.

Many of these important reforms are already under way.

Pennsylvania now has a high-risk insurance option, called FairCare, which offers coverage for people who were previously denied it because of a pre-existing condition. Seniors who reach the prescription drug "doughnut hole" are receiving $250 checks in the mail to help them afford their medications.

Early retirees are benefiting from a program that helps their employers maintain their health coverage. And 4 million small businesses are eligible to receive tax credits to better enable them to provide coverage to their employees.

Just last week, even more changes went into effect. Because of new consumer protections, families will have better coverage, lower costs and more secure coverage.

One of the most frightening ordeals a family can face is a seriously ill child. As a parent, I know parents need to focus on getting their child the care they need, rather than whether their insurance policy will cover essential treatment. For far too long, insurance companies have denied coverage to children with pre-existing conditions, adding concerns and costs for families. This has been a commonplace practice in the insurance industry that ends now.

IT'S NOW the law that no child can be denied insurance coverage because of a pre-existing condition, something I championed throughout the reform process.

Besides this important reform, there are other new rules for insurers. They will be prohibited from dropping coverage when people get sick, and all family policies must allow young adults to remain on their parents' coverage until their 26th birthday, bridging the gap that often occurs between school and the workplace.

Other new reforms will improve the quality of insurance and prevent consumers from getting stuck with medical bills.

* All insurance plans are prohibited from imposing lifetime limits on coverage - so people with costly diseases won't see their coverage evaporate when they are most ill.

* All employer plans and new individual plans are restricted from setting annual limits on coverage.

* All new plans must have an effective internal and external appeals process, so if you want to appeal a decision your insurer makes, the appeal isn't lost in corporate bureaucracy.

Over the next several years, this new law will continue to reform the health-insurance marketplace - creating health-insurance exchanges where consumers can comparison shop for coverage; requiring insurers to use more of your premium dollars on medical care instead of administrative costs and CEO salaries; offering tax credits to help working families afford coverage; and strengthening Medicare for seniors.

These reforms will improve the coverage people get through their employers and the individual health insurance policies they buy from insurers.

BUT BE aware, opponents of health-care reform would like to repeal the law and take away these important consumer protections. I am proud that these reforms are a reality and making a difference in people's lives today.

Rep. Allyson Schwartz, a Democrat, represents parts of Philadelphia and Montgomery County, and is a member of the House Ways and Means Committee.

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