Healthcare reform picks up speed in 2011

“Major insurers around the country are reporting that a growing number of small businesses are signing up to give their workers health benefits, a sign of potential progress for the nation’s battered healthcare system.” (Los Angeles Times, 12-27-10)

The results are coming in and, as expected by those of us who supported health care reform this year, small businesses are responding to the new health insurance tax credits in the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

As the New Year kicks in, so do more parts of the ACA that the “hell no you can’t” Congressional folks and the small business pretender organization, the National Federation of Independent Business, want to repeal or defund.

Look at the long list below to see if you want to get rid of any of these new initiatives that go into effect in 2011, most in just a few days.

New Healthcare Reform Initiatives Becoming Effective in 2011

• Minimum Medical Loss Ratio for Insurers

Requires health plans to report the proportion of premium dollars spent on clinical services, quality, and other costs and provide rebates to consumers if the share of the premium spent on clinical services and quality is less than 85% for plans in the large group market and 80% for plans in the individual and small group markets.

• Closing the Medicare Drug Coverage Gap

Requires pharmaceutical manufacturers to provide a 50% discount on brand-name prescriptions filled in the Medicare Part D coverage gap (donut hole) beginning in 2011 and begins phasing-in federal subsidies for generic prescriptions filled in the Medicare Part D coverage gap.

• Medicare Payments for Primary Care

Provides a 10% Medicare bonus payment for primary care services; also, provides a 10% Medicare bonus payment to general surgeons practicing in health professional shortage areas.

• Medicare Prevention Benefits

Eliminates cost-sharing for Medicare-covered preventive services that are recommended (rated A or B) by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force and waives the Medicare deductible for colorectal cancer screening tests; authorizes Medicare coverage for a personalized prevention plan, including a comprehensive health risk assessment.

• Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation

Creates the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation to test new payment and delivery system models that reduce costs while maintaining or improving quality.

• Medicare Premiums for Higher-Income Beneficiaries

Freezes the income threshold for income-related Medicare Part B premiums for 2011 through 2019 at 2010 levels resulting in more people paying income-related premiums, and reduces the Medicare Part D premium subsidy for those with incomes above $85,000/individual and $170,000/couple.

• Medicare Advantage Payment Changes

Restructures payments to private Medicare Advantage plans by phasing-in payments set at increasingly smaller percentages of Medicare fee-for-service rates; freezes 2011 payments at 2010 levels; and prohibits Medicare Advantage plans from imposing higher cost-sharing requirements for some Medicare covered benefits than is required under the traditional fee-for-service program.

• Medicaid Health Homes

Creates a new Medicaid state option to permit certain Medicaid enrollees to designate a provider as a health home and provides states taking up the option with 90% federal matching payments for two years for health home-related services.

• Chronic Disease Prevention in Medicaid

Provides 3-year grants to states to develop programs to provide Medicaid enrollees with incentives to participate in comprehensive health lifestyle programs and meet certain health behavior targets.

• CLASS Program

Establishes a national, voluntary insurance program for purchasing community living assistance services and supports (CLASS program).

• National Quality Strategy

Requires the Secretary of the federal Department of Health and Human Services to develop and update annually a national quality improvement strategy that includes priorities to improve the delivery of health care services, patient health outcomes, and population health.

• Changes to Tax-Free Savings Accounts

Excludes the costs for over-the-counter drugs not prescribed by a doctor from being reimbursed through a Health Reimbursement Account or health Flexible Spending Account and from being reimbursed on a tax-free basis through a Health Savings Account or Archer Medical Savings Account. Increases the tax on distributions from a health savings account or an Archer MSA that are not used for qualified medical expenses to 20% of the amount used.

• Grants to Establish Wellness Programs

Provides grants for up to five years to small employers that establish wellness programs.

• Teaching Health Centers

Establishes Teaching Health Centers and provides payments for primary care residency programs in community-based ambulatory patient care centers.

• Medical Malpractice Grants

Authorizes $50 million for five-year demonstration grants to states to develop, implement, and evaluate alternatives to current tort litigations.

• Funding for Health Insurance Exchanges

Provides grants to states to begin planning for the establishment of American Health Benefit Exchanges and Small Business Health Options Program Exchanges, which facilitate the purchase of insurance by individuals and small employers.

• Nutritional Labeling

Requires disclosure of the nutritional content of standard menu items at chain restaurants and food sold from vending machines.

• Medicaid Payments for Hospital-Acquired Infections

Prohibits federal payments to states for Medicaid services related to certain hospital-acquired infections.

• Graduate Medical Education

Increases the number of Graduate Medical Education (GME) training positions by redistributing currently unused slots and promotes training in outpatient settings.

• Medicare Independent Payment Advisory Board

Establishes an Independent Advisory Board, comprised of 15 members, to submit legislative proposals containing recommendations to reduce the per capita rate of growth in Medicare spending if spending exceeds targeted growth rates.

• Medicaid Long-Term Care Services

Creates the State Balancing Incentive Program in Medicaid to provide enhanced federal matching payments to increase non-institutionally based long-term care services and establishes the Community First Choice Option in Medicaid to provide community-based attendant support services to certain people with disabilities.

Source: The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, 2010

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