By Kathleen Sebelius
Today marks the beginning of National Consumer Protection Week, which makes this the perfect time to talk about some of the new rights and protections Americans have under the Affordable Care Act.
Beginning Oct. 1, 2013, you'll be able to shop for health insurance and compare plans through the Health Insurance Marketplace in your state. You'll see up front what different plans are likely to cost you and have the opportunity to enroll in the plan you decide is right for you. Should you need help sorting through your options, there will now be people available to assist you.
To help you, your family, friends, and neighbors get ready for enrollment in a plan that you choose through the Health Insurance Marketplace, you can find out more and sign up for email and text updates by visiting https://signup.healthcare.gov/.
The Affordable Care Act also gives you greater control over the care you receive. By requiring insurers to provide you with an easy-to-understand summary of your health plan's benefits and coverage--including a glossary of insurance terms--you will have the information you need to evaluate your options.
The health care law prohibits some of the worst insurance industry practices that have kept affordable health coverage out of reach for millions of Americans when they needed it most. For example, in the past, insurance companies could deny you coverage because you were sick or had a pre-existing condition. Starting in 2014, the law makes it illegal for insurance companies to deny you coverage because of a pre-existing condition. New protections applicable to most plans beginning in 2014 will also prevent insurance companies from charging you more because of your gender or occupation.
Because of the law, it's already illegal for insurance companies to deny coverage to children under age 19 because of a pre-existing condition, or to cancel your coverage because you made an honest mistake on your application. The law also ensures your right to appeal health insurance plan decisions.
In addition, insurance companies can no longer put a lifetime dollar limit on most of the benefits you receive and starting in 2014, insurers will be prohibited from imposing annual dollar limits.
The law also prevents insurance companies from raising your premium rates without accountability or transparency. The law requires insurance companies in every state to publicly provide easy-to-understand information to their customers about their reasons for significant rate increases, and any unreasonable rate increases are posted online. We know this is working. The number of requests for insurance premium increases of 10 percent or more has dropped dramatically, from 75 percent to 14 percent.
This rate review program works in conjunction with the 80/20 rule, which requires insurance companies to generally spend 80 percent of premiums on health care (rather than CEO salaries and marketing) or provide rebates to their customers. Insurance companies that did not meet the 80/20 rule have provided nearly 13 million Americans with more than $1.1 billion in rebates. Americans receiving the rebate have benefited from an average rebate of $151 per household.
Many elements of the Affordable Care Act protect consumers and make the health insurance market work better for individuals, families, and small businesses. Because of the Affordable Care Act, more Americans than ever before will have access to quality health insurance they can afford.