More of health law takes ef­fect

With new pro­vi­sions tak­ing ef­fect, Obama is try­ing to counter Repub­li­can attacks.

Los Angeles Times - - Front Page - Noam N. Levey re­port­ing from washington

Pres­i­dent Obama touts pro­vi­sions that are sched­uled to start Thurs­day.

Pres­i­dent Obama, mark­ing ma­jor pro­vi­sions of the new health­care law that go into ef­fect Thurs­day, vis­ited with Amer­i­cans who stand to ben­e­fit im­me­di­ately as he stepped up ef­forts to repulse Repub­li­can attacks on his sig­na­ture do­mes­tic ini­tia­tive.

“Ob­vi­ously, the econ­omy has been up­per­most on our minds,” Obama told a small gath­er­ing Wed­nes­day at the home of a Vir­ginia man who suf­fers from he­mo­philia and hit a life­time limit in his pri­vate health in­surance cov­er­age.

But the pres­i­dent said he felt he had to do more than end the eco­nomic con­trac­tion.

“Health­care was one of those is­sues that we could no longer ig­nore. … We said we have to take this on,” he said, cit­ing sto­ries of peo­ple go­ing bank­rupt be­cause of their med­i­cal bills. “We are now ac­tu­ally able to pro­vide some help to the Amer­i­can peo­ple.”

Though many of the most sweep­ing ben­e­fits of the law do not go into ef­fect for years, mil­lions of con­sumers stand to gain sub­stan­tial new pro­tec­tions start­ing this fall. (The ben­e­fits ap­ply to plan years start­ing Thurs­day, al­though many Amer­i­cans may not see the changes un­til Jan­uary when their health plans re­new.)

In­surance com­pa­nies, for ex­am­ple, will be pro­hib­ited from can­cel­ing poli­cies when cus­tomers get sick or from deny­ing cov­er­age to sick chil­dren.

Some in­sur­ers have said they will stop sell­ing poli­cies ex­clu­sively for chil­dren rather than com­ply.

The law will al­low par­ents to keep their adult chil­dren up to age 26 on their fam­ily plans, and will bar in­sur­ers from plac­ing life­time caps on how much they will pay when their cus­tomers get ill.

And many con­sumers will get new rights to ap­peal claims that are de­nied by in­sur­ers and win new ac­cess to pre­ven­tive care with­out be­ing asked for co-pays.

“There are many mean­ing­ful re­forms here that, while not per­fect, will help mil­lions of con­sumers get a fairer shake when they buy and use health in­surance,” said Jim Guest, pres­i­dent and chief ex­ec­u­tive of Con­sumers Union, the non­profit pub­lisher of Con­sumer Re­ports.

Many more changes, in­clud­ing guar­an­tees that all Amer­i­cans can get cov­er­age and mil­lions of dol­lars of sub­si­dies to help them pay their premi­ums, will go into ef­fect in 2014.

Other changes have al­ready started, such as tax breaks for small busi­nesses and the grad­ual phase-out of the cov­er­age gap in the Medi­care Part D drug ben­e­fit.

But pub­lic mis­un­der­stand­ing about the new law re­mains high, fu­eled in part by Repub­li­can attacks.

A re­cent sur­vey by the non­profit Kaiser Fam­ily Foun­da­tion found that nearly half of the coun­try’s se­niors be­lieved er­ro­neously that the law cre­ated a new govern­ment panel to make de­ci­sions about endof-life care for peo­ple on Medi­care.

“The mes­sag­ing wars and the rhetoric are re­ally mud­dy­ing the pic­ture,” said Mollyann Brodie, who over­sees the Kaiser poll.

Repub­li­can law­mak­ers, en­er­gized by their bright­en­ing po­lit­i­cal prospects, are stak­ing out plans to try to roll back parts of the law should they take con­trol of Congress next year.

On Wed­nes­day, Wy­oming Sen. Michael B. Enzi, the se­nior Repub­li­can on the Se­nate health com­mit­tee, called for sen­a­tors to back his res­o­lu­tion crit­i­ciz­ing a pro­vi­sion of the law de­signed to dis­cour­age busi­nesses from scal­ing back health ben­e­fits.

The pro­vi­sion would place new re­quire­ments on health plans pro­vided by em­ploy­ers, such as pro­vid­ing free pre­ven­tive care, if em­ploy­ers sub­stan­tially raise co-pays, de­ductibles or other em­ployee con­tri­bu­tions.

“The ad­min­is­tra­tion’s grand­fa­ther rule is a job-killing, wage-cut­ting gamechanger for small busi­ness,” Enzi said. “This is not the kind of re­form the peo­ple wanted.”

Repub­li­can lead­ers are ex­pected to out­line more de­tailed plans Thurs­day for re­peal­ing other parts of the law when they un­veil their much-an­tic­i­pated gov­ern­ing agenda.

Close to half the coun­try con­tin­ues to op­pose the new law, de­spite ef­forts by the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion and con­sumer and pa­tient ad­vo­cates such as the Amer­i­can Heart Assn., the Amer­i­can Can­cer So­ci­ety’s Can­cer Ac­tion Net­work and U.S. Pub­lic In­ter­est Re­search Group.

In part, the polls re­flect the high de­gree of po­lit­i­cal po­lar­iza­tion and the near-even split be­tween Democrats and Repub­li­cans in the coun­try as a whole, with most Repub­li­can re­spon­dents fol­low­ing party lead­ers in crit­i­ciz­ing the health­care over­haul and Democrats ad­her­ing to their party’s sup­port for it.

The White House on Wed­nes­day again tried to sell the over­haul by sur­round­ing the pres­i­dent with Amer­i­cans who are ben­e­fit­ing, in­clud­ing sev­eral small-busi­ness own­ers who plan to use the tax cred­its and se­niors who have re­ceived $250 re­bate checks to help them with their pre­scrip­tion drug bills.

Obama also met with state in­surance com­mis­sion­ers whom the ad­min­is­tra­tion is count­ing on to pro­tect con­sumers from ex­ces­sive rate hikes by in­surance com­pa­nies.

And the White House un­veiled a new health web­site that high­lights sto­ries of the law’s ef­fects from around the coun­try.

“These things are de­signed not to have govern­ment more in­volved in health­care,” Obama said. “They’re de­signed to make sure that you have ba­sic pro­tec­tions in your in­ter­ac­tions with your in­surance com­pany, that you’re get­ting what you paid for, that you have some ba­sic mea­sures of pro­tec­tion.”

Pablo Martinez Monsivais

COM­FORT­ING ARMS: Pres­i­dent Obama hugs a woman who spoke at a gath­er­ing at the home of a Vir­ginia man who suf­fers from he­mo­philia. Obama is vis­it­ing those who will im­me­di­ately ben­e­fit from the new law.

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