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The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act

By Senator Ben Nelson

Our new health law continues to interest Nebraskans, judging by questions I’m being asked during travels around the state, and I’m happy to report there’s good news for us this year.

Small business tax credits

The White House recently sent out a report showing some of the improvements that will go into effect pretty soon. For example, 34,300 small businesses in Nebraska could be helped by a new small business tax credit that makes it easier for businesses to provide coverage to their workers and makes premiums more affordable. Small businesses pay, on average, 18 percent more than large businesses for the same coverage and health insurance premiums have gone up three times faster than wages in the past 10 years.

Closing the Medicare Part D donut hole

The law also provides good news for the roughly 23,100 Medicare beneficiaries in Nebraska who hit the donut hole… the gap in Medicare Part D drug coverage. Help is on the way as Medicare beneficiaries in Nebraska who hit the gap this year will automatically be mailed a one-time $250 rebate check beginning in mid-June.

Support for health coverage for early retirees

There’s also welcome news for the estimated 9,820 Nebraskans who retired before they were eligible for Medicare and have health coverage through their former employers. Beginning June 1, 2010, a $5 billion temporary early retiree reinsurance program will help stabilize early retiree coverage and help ensure that firms continue to provide health coverage to their early retirees.

New consumer protections in the insurance market

Beginning this September insurance companies will no longer be able to place lifetime limits on health care benefits they’ll pay to subscribers. This will ensure that the 1.1 million Nebraska residents with private insurance never have to worry about their coverage running out and facing catastrophic out-of-pocket costs.

Insurance companies will also be banned from dropping people from coverage when they get sick, protecting 127,000 Nebraskans, and insurance companies will not be able to exclude children from coverage because of a pre-existing condition, giving parents across Nebraska a great sense of relief I’m sure.

Extending coverage to young adults

For parents who have older children in college or still living at home, as of September issuers that cover children on their parents’ policy must allow children to remain until they turn 26. This improvement will bring peace of mind and good health care to roughly 5,830 individuals in Nebraska.

Affordable insurance for uninsured with pre-existing conditions

$22.6 million federal dollars are available to Nebraska starting July 1 to provide coverage for uninsured residents with pre-existing medical conditions through a new transitional high-risk pool program, funded entirely by the Federal government. The program is a bridge to 2014 when Americans will have access to affordable coverage options in the new health insurance exchanges.

Many Nebraskans have been understandably anxious about the health reform law, but I hope are willing to give it a chance. They’re right to withhold judgment, and as these and other changes take place they should see the law benefit many people by bringing costs down and making good quality health care more affordable.