By: Emily Beaver
Last weekend, the House of Representatives passed its version of health care reform, the Affordable Health Care for America Act, or H.R. 3962. The bill is almost 2,000 pages long. Haven't read it yet? Here are a few parts of the bill that could have a big impact on young people.
The Individual Mandate
Under H.R. 3962, everyone would be required to have health insurance, a policy known as an "individual mandate." This could be a big change for people ages 19-29, who are less likely to have health insurance than other age groups. However, the bill doesn't just require everyone to get insurance -- it aims to make getting insurance easier. Allowing more people to be insured through the Medicaid program, letting young people stayed insured under their parents' plans until age 27, and creating an exchange where individuals could buy health insurance are a few strategies to help more people get insured. Anyone who doesn't have insurance would be fined up to 2.5 percent of their income.
Staying Insured Under a Parent's Plan
The House bill would allow children to stay insured under their parents' private health insurance plans until age 27. This change could occur as soon as January 2010, unlike other parts of health care reform that wouldn't go into effect until 2013, Rodgers says. Since some states allow insurance companies to to drop young people from their parents' health plans once they reach their late teens or early twenties, this change could help more young people keep their health insurance.
Experts say that young people are less likely to be insured because they often don't get health benefits at work and usually don't qualify for government health insurance programs like Medicare or Medicaid. But the House bill would make states change eligibility rules to allow more people to get health insurance through Medicaid, a government-run health insurance program for poor and very low-income people. Right now, Medicaid insures parents with dependent children, pregnant women, children, senior citizens and some people with disabilities, so most young adults don't qualify for the program, says Melissa Rodgers, associate director of the Berkeley Center on Health, Economic and Family Security. Under the House bill, some young adults without children would now be able to qualify for Medicaid. The bill would also change Medicaid rules to insure people who earn up to 150 percent of the federal poverty limit. Under the 2009 guidelines, 150 percent of the federal poverty limit would be $16,245 a year for an individual.
The Health Insurance Exchange and the Individual Market
Health reform could lead to major changes for Americans who don't get insurance through work, a parent or spouse's health plan, or through Medicare or Medicaid. Right now, most of these people buy private health insurance plans from the individual market or go without insurance. The House bill would create a health insurance exchange, which would sell private and government-run health insurance plans.
By creating a health insurance exchange, the government would move people away from the individual market, Rodgers says. H.R. 3962 creates four tiers of health insurance plans, which limits how much consumers can spend on insurance plans, based on what medical services the plans offer. The tiers are meant to make it easier for consumers to compare insurance plans offered by different private insurance companies, as well as any insurance plans offered by the government, Rodger says. Right now, there are few to no standards for how much insurers can charge for health insurance plans sold on the individual market or what benefits those plans must offer.
So when will these changes start affecting you? Before anything in the House bill can become a law, the Senate has to pass its own version of health care reform. Then both the House and Senate have to combine their bills, then the final bill has to pass both the House and Senate again before the president can sign a bill into law.
Right now, two different health reform bills are moving around the Senate. However, these bills share some of the same goals, including expanding the Medicaid program, letting young people stayed insured under their parents' health plans longer, and creating an insurance exchange, Rodgers says. So there's a good chance these changes will show up if Congress passes health reform.