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What health reform means for the people of Illinois

A blog by IllinoisHealthMatters.org

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

America’s Health Care Law: Providing Security and Opportunity for All

It's been a year since the historic vote that made the Affordable Care Act (ACA) a law, putting America on the path towards a system of quality, affordable health care for all. We have a lot to celebrate as we continue to implement and enforce our consumer protections here in Illinois.

Through the passage of health insurance reform, we have brought some of the most abusive practices of the insurance industry to an end, and instituted new rights and benefits for all. From birth to death, Americans now enjoy health care security and protection in new ways. Already in Illinois:
  • 47,200 young adults in Illinois are now eligible to stay on their parents’ coverage through age 26
  • Tens of thousands of small businesses receive tax credits that help them offer their employees coverage
  • 7.5 million people in our state no longer need to worry about hitting a lifetime cap on benefits because of the ACA
  • 612,000 Illinoisans will not have their insurance coverage rescinded when they get sick and need it most
  • 1.8 million seniors are now eligible for free wellness care, and 109,421 of them received help in meeting the costs of their prescription drugs while in the Medicare Part D coverage gap
Despite all the benefits that the new law offers, the Affordable Care Act is not perfect, but it is a good start towards health care security for all Americans. It makes sense that the Illinois General Assembly builds upon the protections and rights of this law as we move ahead to work for a system of quality, affordable health care for all.

Now at the one-year mark, the Campaign for Better Health Care and our statewide coalition encourage our elected officials in Springfield to move forward with the implementation of the required components of this new law. Any delay will have a profound negative impact on quality of life for millions of Illinois' working families, children, seniors, individuals and small businesses.

Our State Representatives and State Senators in Springfield need to stand up for the middle class and small businesses, not the insurance industry. Did you know that the top Illinois insurance companies amassed surpluses in excess of $28.3 billion in 2010? Surplus is a company's total assets minus liabilities. In other words, it’s what's left after ALL other possible costs of doing business (including all possible future claims by policyholders, paying dividends to shareholders, etc) are accounted for. Their surpluses increased by an additional $2.5 billion from 2009, even in the current economic conditions we face.

We need to implement and strengthen the health care law at the state level in a few ways. First, let’s institute fair rate review laws as outlined in Representative Greg Harris’s proposal. Rate review means that insurance companies will have to justify their requests for rate increases to the state Department of Insurance and cannot raise your rates unless their request passes this review. Laws similar to this exist in 30 states, but Illinois currently has no oversight mechanism in place.

Rate review increases transparency in the process - insurance companies will have to prove the need to charge their customers more. With more information about the rationale for rate hikes, consumers will be better prepared to make an informed decision about whether or not to purchase insurance from a specific company. This will stimulate positive competition in the health insurance marketplace, and benefit consumers by lowering costs.

Second, the Illinois General Assembly needs to begin developing a competitive health insurance marketplace, commonly known as an insurance health exchange. St. Senator Dave Koehler’s proposal begins setting up the competitive health marketplace for Illinois.

The marketplace is voluntary – if you like the insurance you have, you can keep it and not use the marketplace. However, the marketplace is always available in case you want or need it. This approach will give consumers greater control, more choice, improve quality, increase transparency, and create much needed competition in the insurance marketplace.

On this milestone anniversary of new freedom and protection for American health insurance consumers, let's work together to make Illinois' health care laws work for us, not for the obscene and greedy surpluses of insurance companies.

Jim Duffett
Executive Director, Campaign for Better Health Care

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