Milestones in Health Care

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This is an important month for children with medical problems and recent college graduates. It's also a milestone for the nearly one out of three Americans who have -- whether they know it or not -- limits on how much their health insurance will pay.

September is when some early provisions of the hotly debated health reform law, otherwise known as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, take effect. Starting this month, thousands of children with medical problems can no longer be denied health insurance because of pre-existing conditions. Starting this month, about a million young adults will be newly eligible for health insurance because they can remain on, or join, their parent's policies until they are 26 years old. Starting this month, an estimated 102 million Americans who have lifetime limits on what their health insurance will pay for, will no longer have to worry that when they get really sick, their insurance will run out. And starting this month, the insurance company practice of finding trivial excuses to cancel people's insurance -- after they come down with a serious illness -- is a thing of the past.

Also, starting this year, all new insurance plans are required to provide free vaccinations and cancer screenings to their patients. Medicare patients who pay excessive amounts for their prescriptions will receive a $250 rebate. And small businesses will receive new tax breaks to help them purchase health insurance for their employees.

As important as these changes are, these are just baby steps. Many of the key components of the law -- the ones that will eventually ensure that the vast majority of Americans will have health coverage -- won't take effect until 2014.

For many of us in health care, it's astounding that it's taken us this long to make sure that sick people who actually need insurance can get it -- or that people who get sick can actually use their insurance, without fear of running out of coverage or having their coverage taken away.


For many of us in health care, it's unbelievable that we now have a record 50 million Americans who are uninsured, and that a full solution is still years away.

But better late than never.

With a Perspective, this is Alice Chen.