Health care reform bill 101: How long will reform take?

If the health care bill passes, major reforms could take years to be enacted.

Jim Young/Reuters
Changes from the healthcare bill, if it passes, could take until 2014 to be fully implemented. Here, President Obama talks healthcare reform at George Mason University on Friday.

Even if health care reform legislation passes, major health care reforms will be years away.

Huh? If Congress approves a bill, and President Obama signs it, doesn’t that make it, you know, the law of the land?

Yes. And indeed, some big changes would take place immediately if that happens.

Healthcare 101: What the bill means to you

But some of the most important provisions of the mammoth health bill aren’t set to take effect until 2014, or even later. As we said in the first installment of this plain-English series on what’s in the health bill, healthcare reform is a big, rambling, Rube Goldbergian machine.

It would take time to set that up, and write the regulations that will govern its operations.

You’ll note that by 2014 the US will have had two Congressional elections. Three, if you count the one that will occur in late 2014 itself. And in 2012 there’s the little matter of President Obama’s run for reelection.

That’s just to point out that the implementation of healthcare reform could come in a very different political environment than the one in which passage occurs. If the bill passes, that is.

Things that happen first

The healthcare reform bill makes a point of putting first the things that are supposed to happen first. They’re in subtitle A, right up top: “Immediate Improvements in Health Care Coverage for All Americans.” Things in the bill that take effect right away include:

  • Insurance companies will be prohibited from placing lifetime caps – limits on the amount of money that can eventually be paid out – on their policies. They’ll face new restrictions on setting annual caps, as well.
  • Insurance companies also will be prohibited from pulling your coverage, except in case of fraud or intentional misrepresentation.
  • Children won’t be excluded from coverage due to pre-existing health conditions. Plus, children will be able to stay on their parents’ policy until age 26.
  • Small businesses that offer health coverage to employees will be eligible for tax credits of up to 50 percent of premium costs.
  • Seniors who fall into the coverage gap, or “doughnut hole”, in the middle of the Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage plan will get $250 to help them pay their bills.
  • People with pre-existing health conditions will be able to enroll in a new, but temporary, national high-risk insurance plan.

Things that happen later

The central element of the superstructure of President Obama’s healthcare reform effort is its individual mandate, as we described in part one of this series. Most people who live in the United States will be required to obtain health insurance.

But this does not kick in until 2014, when fines begin for those who don’t have coverage.

Similarly, the subsidies intended to make policy purchase affordable – the subject of part two of this series – don’t start until then. And the exchanges where individuals and small business can buy health insurance (you guessed it – part three) are not supposed to be up and running for four years, either.

Finally, one of the most popular provisions in the health bill, its ban on the denial of insurance coverage due to pre-existing health conditions, won’t take effect until 2014 either. That’s because insurers will need the flood of new customers brought in by the individual mandate to cushion the costs of accepting people who already have health problems.

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Health Care Reform Bill 101:

Introduction: What the bill means to you

Part 1: Who must buy insurance?

Part 2: Who gets subsidized insurance?

Part 3: What's a health 'exchange'?

Part 4: How long will reform take?

Part 5: Who will pay for reform?

Part 6: What will it mean for business?

Part 7: What does it mean for kids and families?

Part 8: What does it mean for seniors?

Part 9: Rules for preexisting conditions

Part 10: Will it make health care more effective?

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