On July 1, America witnessed the debut of two important components of the new health care reform law. First, starting now, you can access the government’s new, one-stop shop for health care information at www.healthcare.gov. And second, if you have a pre-existing condition and have been uninsured for over six months, you can now sign-up for coverage under the newly minted, national health insurance pool.
Healthcare.gov is designed to help consumers find out about their insurance options. You will be able to type in your zip code and other information about your insurance status and a list of options will appear with direct links to insurers’ websites. These options will include private insurance options as well as COBRA, Medicare, Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Plan (CHIP) information. This service will be especially helpful to small businesses in viewing all available options without needing the aid of an insurance broker.
The website will continue evolving over time. A Spanish version will be launched in October and other languages will follow. There are also prompts throughout the site that will ask for input on the clarity and ease of use. The Department of Health and Human Services is committed to ongoing improvements to the site to best serve consumers. At the onset, pricing information is not directly available, but will be in the fall along with a “compare care” section that allows consumers to compare benefits between competing plans.
This month also marked the opening of a federal and state administered “high risk” pools, now called the Pre-existing Condition Insurance Plan (PCIP). This provision of the new law is designed to help those who are unable to obtain insurance because of a pre-existing condition. The PCIP is available to those who have been denied coverage-proof of denial will be required-and who have been without insurance for six months or longer. PCIP is not free, there will be premiums and out of pocket expenses, but it will be a great benefit for those who are “uninsurable” under the old system.
This is a stop gap measure to help this population until the health insurance exchange is fully operational in 2014. At that time, anyone will be able purchase insurance through the exchange without regard to pre-existing conditions.
The Commonwealth has opted-out of the state run PCIP program, so Virginians will join residents of 21 other states in accessing the benefit through the federally administered plan. Select Virginia from the pull down menu on the front page of healthcare.gov and it will walk you through how the new high risk pool works for our state.
Suffice to say, if you are one of the millions of people who can’t get insurance because of a “pre-existing condition,” I urge you to visit healthcare.gov right now and complete the PCIP form. Those who apply and are approved for enrollment on or before July 15 can expect their coverage to begin August 1.
Rep. James Moran (D) is Virginia’s 8th Congressional District Representative in the U.S. House of Representatives.