Posts Tagged ‘Obamacare’


Whether your agree with it or not, the Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare” is one of the most significant pieces of legislation ever to pass the U.S. Congress. Some of it is already in effect but it will continue to unfold in years to come.

Politics aside, there are thousands of questions about this sweeping reform of American healthcare and this post only answers a few, but they are important questions.  Others will emerge as the act unfolds and people have real, day to day experience with it.

What you are about to read was developed by the Henry J. Kaiser Foundation, a non-profit, non-partisan research organization.  This is what their website says about them:

The Henry J. Kaiser Foundation http://www.kff.org/

Who We are

A leader in health policy analysis, health journalism and communication, the Kaiser Family Foundation is dedicated to filling the need for trusted, independent information on the major health issues facing our nation and its people.  Kaiser is a non-profit, private operating foundation focusing on the major health care issues facing the U.S., as well as the U.S. role in global health policy.  Unlike grant-making foundations, Kaiser develops and runs its own research and communications programs, sometimes in partnership with other non-profit research organizations or major media companies.

We serve as a non-partisan source of facts, information, and analysis for policymakers, the media, the health care community, and the public. Our product is information, always provided free of charge — from the most sophisticated policy research, to basic facts and numbers, to information young people can use to improve their health or elderly people can use to understand their Medicare benefits.

The Kaiser Family Foundation is not associated with Kaiser Permanente or Kaiser Industries.

A Post-election Consumer’s Guide to Health Reform

By Mary Agnes Carey and Jenny Gold, Kaiser Health News

Now that President Barack Obama has won a second term, the Affordable Care Act is back on a fast track.

Some analysts argue that there could be modifications to reduce federal spending as part of a broader deficit deal; for now, this is just speculation. What is clear is that the law will have sweeping ramifications for consumers, state officials, employers and healthcare providers, including hospitals and doctors.

While some of the key features don’t kick in until 2014, the law has already altered the health care industry and established a number of consumer benefits.

Here’s a primer on parts of the law already up and running, what’s to come and ways that provisions could still be altered.

I don’t have health insurance. Under the law, will I have to buy it and what happens if I don’t?

Today, you are not required to have health insurance . But beginning in 2014, most people will have to have it or pay a fine. For individuals, the penalty would start at $95 a year, or up to 1 percent of income, whichever is greater, and rise to $695, or 2.5 percent of income, by 2016.

For families the penalty would be $2,085 or 2.5 percent of household income, whichever is greater. The requirement to have coverage can be waived for several reasons, including financial hardship or religious beliefs.

Millions of additional people will qualify for Medicaid or federal subsidies to buy insurance under the law.

While some states, including most recently Alabama, Wyoming and Montana, have passed laws to block the requirement to carry health insurance, those provisions do not override federal law.

I get my health coverage at work and want to keep my current plan. Will I be able to do that? How will my plan be affected by the health law?

If you get insurance through your job, it is likely to stay that way. But, just as before the law was passed, your employer is not obligated to keep the current plan and may change premiums, deductibles, co-pays and network coverage.

You may have seen some law-related changes already. For example, most plans now ban lifetime coverage limits and include a guarantee that an adult child up to age 26 who can’t get health insurance at a job can stay on her parents’ health plan.

What other parts of the law are now in place?

You are likely to be eligible for preventive services with no out-of-pocket costs, such as breast cancer screenings and cholesterol tests.

Health plans can’t cancel your coverage once you get sick – a practice known as “rescission” – unless you committed fraud when you applied for coverage.

Children with pre-existing conditions cannot be denied coverage. This will apply to adults in 2014.

Insurers will have to provide rebates to consumers if they spend less than 80 to 85 percent of premium dollars on medical care.

Some existing plans, if they haven’t changed significantly since passage of the law, do not have to abide by certain parts of the law. For example, these “grandfathered” plans can still charge beneficiaries part of the cost of preventive services.

If you’re currently in one of these plans, and your employer makes significant changes, such as raising your out-of-pocket costs, the plan would then have to abide by all aspects of the health law.

I want health insurance but I can’t afford it. What will I do?

Depending on your income, you might be eligible for Medicaid. Currently, in most states nonelderly adults without minor children don’t qualify for Medicaid. But beginning in 2014, the federal government is offering to pay the cost of an expansion in the programs so that anyone with an income at or lower than 133 percent of the federal poverty level, (which based on current guidelines would be $14,856 for an individual or $30,656 for a family of four) will be eligible for Medicaid.

The Supreme Court, however, ruled in June that states cannot be forced to make that change. Republican governors in several states have said that they will refuse the expansion, though that may change now that Obama has been re-elected.

What if I make too much money for Medicaid but still can’t afford to buy insurance?

You might be eligible for government subsidies to help you pay for private insurance sold in the state-based insurance marketplaces, called exchanges, slated to begin operation in 2014. Exchanges will sell insurance plans to individuals and small businesses.

These premium subsidies will be available for individuals and families with incomes between 133 percent and 400 percent of the poverty level, or $14,856 to $44,680 for individuals and $30,656 to $92,200 for a family of four (based on current guidelines).

Will it be easier for me to get coverage even if I have health problems?

Insurers will be barred from rejecting applicants based on health status once the exchanges are operating in 2014.

I own a small business. Will I have to buy health insurance for my workers?

No employer is required to provide insurance. But starting in 2014, businesses with 50 or more employees that don’t provide health care coverage and have at least one full-time worker who receives subsidized coverage in the health insurance exchange will have to pay a fee of $2,000 per full-time employee. The firm’s first 30 workers would be excluded from the fee.

However, firms with 50 or fewer people won’t face any penalties.

In addition, if you own a small business, the health law offers a tax credit to help cover the cost. Employers with 25 or fewer full-time workers who earn an average yearly salary of $50,000 or less today can get tax credits of up 35 percent of the cost of premiums. The credit increases to 50 percent in 2014.

I’m over 65. How does the legislation affect seniors?

The law is narrowing a gap in the Medicare Part D prescription drug plan known as the “doughnut hole.” That’s when seniors who have paid a certain initial amount in prescription costs have to pay for all of their drug costs until they spend a total of $4,700 for the year. Then the plan coverage begins again.

That coverage gap will be closed entirely by 2020. Seniors will still be responsible for 25 percent of their prescription drug costs. So far, 5.6 million seniors have saved $4.8 billion on prescription drugs, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

The law also expanded Medicare’s coverage of preventive services, such as screenings for colon, prostate and breast cancer, which are now free to beneficiaries. Medicare will also pay for an annual wellness visit to the doctor. HHS reports that during the first nine months of 2012, more than 20.7 million Medicare beneficiaries have received preventive services at no cost.

The health law reduced the federal government’s payments to Medicare Advantage plans, run by private insurers as an alternative to the traditional Medicare. Medicare Advantage costs more per beneficiary than traditional Medicare. Critics of those payment cuts say that could mean the private plans may not offer many extra benefits, such as free eyeglasses, hearing aids and gym memberships, that they now provide.

Will I have to pay more for my health care because of the law?

No one knows for sure. Even supporters of the law acknowledge its steps to control health costs, such as incentives to coordinate care better, may take a while to show significant savings. Opponents say the law’s additional coverage requirements will make health insurance more expensive for individuals and for the government.

That said, there are some new taxes and fees. For example, starting in 2013, individuals with earnings above $200,000 and married couples making more than $250,000 will pay a Medicare payroll tax of 2.35 percent, up from the current 1.45 percent, on income over those thresholds. In addition, higher-income people will be taxed 3.8 percent on unearned income, such as dividends and interest.

Starting in 2018, the law also will impose a 40 percent excise tax on the portion of most employer-sponsored health coverage (excluding dental and vision) that exceeds $10,200 a year and $27,500 for families. The tax has been dubbed a “Cadillac” tax because it hits the most generous plans.

In addition, the law also imposes taxes and fees on several major health industries. Beginning in 2013, medical device manufacturers and importers must pay a 2.3 percent tax on the sale of any taxable medical device to raise $29 billion over 10 years. An annual fee for health insurers is expected to raise more than $100 billion over 10 years, while a fee for brand name drugs will bring in another $34 billion.

Those fees will likely be passed onto consumers in the form of higher premiums.

Hasn’t the law hit some bumps in the road?

Yes. For example, the law created high-risk insurance pools to help people buy health insurance. But enrollment in the pools has been less than expected. As of Aug. 31, 86,072 people had signed up for the high-risk pools, but the program, which began in June 2010, was initially expected to enroll between 200,000 and  400,000 people. The cost and the requirements have been difficult for some to meet.

Applicants must be uninsured for six months because of a pre-existing medical condition before they can join a pool. And because participants are sicker than the general population, the premiums are higher.

Enrollment has increased since the summer, after the premiums were lowered in some states by as much as 40 percent and some states stepped up advertising.

A long-term care provision of the law is dead for now. The Community Living Assistance Services and Supports program (CLASS Act) was designed for people to buy federally guaranteed insurance that would have helped consumers eventually cover some long-term-care costs. But last fall, federal officials effectively suspended the program even before it was to begin, saying they could not find a way to make it work financially.

Are there more changes ahead for the law?

Some observers think there could be pressure in Congress to make some changes to the law as a larger package to reduce the deficit. Among those options is scaling back the subsidies that help low-income Americans buy health insurance coverage. The amount of the subsidies, and possibly the Medicaid expansion as well, could be reduced.

It’s also possible that some of the taxes on the health care industry, which help pay for the new benefits in the health law, could be rolled back. For example, legislation to repeal the tax on medical device manufacturers passed the House with support from 37 Democrats (it is not expected to receive Senate consideration this year). Nine House Democrats are co-sponsoring legislation to repeal the law’s annual fee on health insurers.

Meanwhile, the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB), one of the most contentious provisions of the health law, is also under continued attack by lawmakers. IPAB is a 15-member panel charged with making recommendations to reduce Medicare spending if the amount the government spends grows beyond a target rate. If Congress chooses not to accept the recommendations, lawmakers must pass alternative cuts of the same size.

Some Republicans argue that the board amounts to health care rationing and some Democrats have said that they think the panel would transfer power that belongs on Capitol Hill to the executive branch. In March, the House voted to repeal IPAB but that bill did not get past the Senate.

Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan health policy research and communication organization not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

Bob Aronson of Bob’s Newheart is a 2007 heart transplant recipient, the founder of Facebook’s nearly 2,500 member Organ Transplant Initiative and the author of most of these donation/transplantation blogs.

You may comment in the space provided or email your thoughts to me at bob@baronson.org. And – please spread the word about the immediate need for more organ donors. There is nothing you can do that is of greater importance. If you convince one person to be an organ and tissue donor you may save or positively affect over 60 lives. Some of those lives may be people you know and love.

Please view our video “Thank You From the Bottom of my Donor’s heart” on http://www.organti.org This video was produced to promote organ donation so it is free and no permission is needed for its use.

If you want to spread the word personally about organ donation, we have another PowerPoint slide show for your use free and without permission. Just go to http://www.organti.org and click on “Life Pass It On” on the left side of the screen and then just follow the directions. This is NOT a stand-alone show; it needs a presenter but is professionally produced and factually sound. If you decide to use the show I will send you a free copy of my e-book, “How to Get a Standing “O” that will help you with presentation skills. Just write to bob@baronson.org and usually you will get a copy the same day.

Also…there is more information on this blog site about other donation/transplantation issues. Additionally we would love to have you join our Facebook group, Organ Transplant Initiative The more members we get the greater our clout with decision makers.


This is a presidential election year and because of the debate over Medicare, Obamacare and the federal deficit Senior Citizens had better sit up and take notice.  Regardless of who wins big changes are in store that will affect the lives of current and future senior citizens.  While this blog usually confines itself to organ donation/transplantation issues the all-encompassing nature of the healthcare debate caused us to broaden our perspective. From our vantage point this is how the Medicare/Obamacare/deficit debate shakes out.

When it comes to health care in America we have the known (Medicare as it currently stands and the Affordable Care Act or “Obamacare) and we have the unknown (Romney/Ryan – roughly outlined plan)

Here’s what we know we have now and what we can expect.

  • If you are 65 years old and need an organ transplant Medicare will pay 80% of the cost (your supplemental will pick up the rest) and will pay the full cost of all of your ant- rejection drugs as long as you live.
  • If you are officially disabled, regardless of age, Medicare will offer the same transplant and anti-rejection coverage.
  • If you are under 65 but suffer from Kidney Disease Medicare will cover 80% of the cost of a transplant and will fully cover anti-rejection drugs for 36 months.  Medicare will also cover the cost of dialysis until you get a transplant
  • If you qualify Medicaid, which is mostly federally funded but state run, will cover transplants and the cost of medication but with recent cuts many people will not qualify for transplants.
  • Under “Obamacare” If you are covered by Medicare Part D (that’s prescription coverage) your costs will keep going down until they disappear almost completely in 8 years (2020) that’s when the donut hole closes.
  • 14.3 million Senior citizens in America have already received important preventive benefits under The Affordable Care Act including an annual checkup, without paying any deductibles or co-pays. Also millions of Americans are getting cancer screenings, mammograms, and other preventive services at no charge, but the status quo cannot last.  Even if Medicare/Obamacare survives it will have to change, there will be cuts because the cost of providing care is just too high.  Changes could include a later starting date for Medicare to age 66 or 67; more limited coverage; lowering coverage from 80 to 70%; higher premiums; fewer drugs covered under Part D to name just a few.
  • Still unknown is what change will be made in organ allocation policy.  Under consideration is a measure that would allocate organs by potential long term survivability. That simply means that age will become more of a factor.  Under this practice younger organs would go to younger people because both the organs and the recipient have longer expected life spans.  For example, if an organ came from someone who was 40 years old it might be expected that it would survive another 25 years.  If a potential recipient was 65 and had an expected life span of 75 the available organ might instead go to someone younger, even though the younger person might not be as sick.  A very tough ethical question being asked in light of the on-going organ shortage.

Romney/Ryan are promising to “Change the system for the better.” Unfortunately we don’t know what that is.  What we do know is that both men have committed to repealing the Affordable Care Act.  If they do that, the donut hole will open again, maybe bigger than ever, preventive services will disappear and many senior citizens may be faced with making horrible choices like, eating instead of taking medications.

The GOP ticket is also committed to further spending cuts and if past performance is an indication Medicaid will get cut again, which may mean that there will be few if any Medicaid financed organ transplants.

While neither of the GOP team has said a word about Transplant coverage one certainly gets the feeling that everything to do with health care is on the table.  Here’s the Romney plan according to the Los Angeles Times.

“Romney has said he would waive as much of the 2010 law as he could through his authority as president, and push Congress to repeal the rest. In its place, he would seek a premium-support system like the one Ryan proposed for those becoming eligible for Medicare in 2022 and beyond. Private insurers would compete with Medicare in a new marketplace, or exchange, with each offering coverage roughly equivalent to what Medicare offers. Instead of offering seniors Medicare coverage, the government would provide an insurance subsidy equal to the second-least-expensive offering in the exchange. Seniors who didn’t want that particular coverage could use the subsidy to buy the less expensive insurance and keep the change, or sign up for more expensive coverage and pay the difference out of pocket.”  http://tinyurl.com/8jl5xpb

A new report, (August 24, 2012) from the Center for American Progress finds that the Romney/Ryan proposal to transform Medicare’s guaranteed benefit into a “premium support” structure for future retirees could increase costs by almost $60,000 for seniors reaching the age of 65 in 2023. http://tinyurl.com/9rh2pyo  The Romney/Ryan campaign says this report is inaccurate.

Here’s what bothers me about the Romney/Ryan plan.  It turns nearly everything over to the private sector which, when combined with the Republican penchant for de-regulation, threatens the elderly with minimal coverage for maximum cost for a minimum of people.

Perhaps Romney/Ryan will come up with a more detailed proposal that will offer more certainty, but this sounds too much like a dismantling of Medicare with the result being that seniors will just buy insurance in the private marketplace like everyone else.  Most importantly, though, it appears that Obamacare offers a more certain possibility of organ transplant coverage than does Romney/Ryan which makes no mention of the procedure.  Additionally, if the Affordable Care Act is repealed, pre-existing conditions will return which would automatically rule out anyone who needs a transplant.  And…along those same lines, I can’t think of a single senior citizen who doesn’t have at least one pre-existing condition that would prevent insurance coverage.

On balance, both options leave a lot to be desired for seniors, but repeal of the Affordable Care Act would be a disaster for many of us, especially when faced with the ever increasing cost of drugs, and the senior citizen need for more medications as we age.  Re-opening the donut hole is just not an acceptable option for us.

There is still plenty of time between now and Election Day for Romney/Ryan to clarify their plan and to specifically mention organ and tissue transplant coverage but until they do this blog will play it safe and endorse the present flawed but more understandable Medicare/Obamacare system.

Bob Aronson of Bob’s Newheart is a 2007 heart transplant recipient, the founder of Facebook’s nearly 2,500 member Organ Transplant Initiative and the author of most of these donation/transplantation blogs.

You may comment in the space provided or email your thoughts to me at bob@baronson.org. And – please spread the word about the immediate need for more organ donors. There is nothing you can do that is of greater importance. If you convince one person to be an organ and tissue donor you may save or positively affect over 60 lives. Some of those lives may be people you know and love.

Please view our video “Thank You From the Bottom of my Donor’s heart” on http://www.organti.org This video was produced to promote organ donation so it is free and no permission is needed for its use.

If you want to spread the word personally about organ donation, we have another PowerPoint slide show for your use free and without permission. Just go to http://www.organti.org and click on “Life Pass It On” on the left side of the screen and then just follow the directions. This is NOT a stand-alone show; it needs a presenter but is professionally produced and factually sound. If you decide to use the show I will send you a free copy of my e-book, “How to Get a Standing “O” that will help you with presentation skills. Just write to bob@baronson.org and usually you will get a copy the same day.

Also…there is more information on this blog site about other donation/transplantation issues. Additionally we would love to have you join our Facebook group, Organ Transplant Initiative The more members we get the greater our clout with decision makers.