What health reform means to San Mateo County residents

The new health care law passed by Congress and signed by the president in March is already providing relief to people suffering from some combination of illness, frustration with a capricious health insurance industry, and sticker shock over skyrocketing health care costs. Between now and 2014 when it’s fully implemented, the new health care law will expand health coverage to 32 million Americans currently without it (65,000 of whom reside in San Mateo County), give valuable consumer protections to people covered by private insurance, and reduce the federal deficit by an estimated $100 billion over the next decade. Despite these significant benefits the new law remains unpopular with the public, with a recent Associated Press poll showing only 41 percent in support, compared with 46 percent opposed.

No doubt part of the reason for the law’s unpopularity stems from a lack of information about its provisions. To counter this lack of information and to guide the county’s implementation of the new law, the Board of Supervisors formed the Community Health Reform Advocacy Committee (CHRAC). Made up of a diverse group of community representatives, CHRAC’s mission is to educate and inform the public about the new law and identify funding opportunities to expand health coverage to residents who are without it — either because of the length of time it will take to fully implement the law or because its provisions will not apply to them.

Some important provisions of the new law took effect recently that should help allay some of the public’s concerns about health reform. They include important steps to curb abusive insurance industry practices and an expansion of coverage to medically uninsurable Californians.

For all new private insurance plans written after mid-September:

– Young adults are eligible to remain on their parents’ policies until age 26.

– Children cannot be denied coverage on the basis of pre-existing conditions.

– Individuals can no longer be denied coverage retroactively due to errors in their applications; and

– A long list of preventive services, including Pap smears and mammograms, must be provided at no out-of-pocket cost to policyholders.

In addition, the California Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan (PCIP) will soon provide coverage at subsidized rates to Californians who have previously been denied insurance due to pre-existing conditions. Residents interested in learning more about the new law and how to take advantage of its provisions, including the PCIP, should visit CHRAC’s website at www.co.sanmateo.ca.us/healthreform.

Overhauling our health care system has proven to be one of the most complex tasks the federal government has ever undertaken. But a system that leaves 47 million lacking coverage and millions more on the brink of financial collapse is a system that needs recalibrating. The new law is not perfect and key issues remain unresolved, but in time it will result in a more equitable health care system that contains costs and makes us all healthier. The Community Health Reform Advocacy Committee is working diligently to ensure the new law optimally benefits all residents of San Mateo County.

Carole Groom and Adrienne Tissier are members of the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors and serve on its Community Health Reform Advocacy Committee.

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