Health care overhaul rules take effect today

HOUSTON Today begins a new day for health care in the USA as the first set of new rules for the Obama health care program go into effect.

Dr. Pauline Rosenau, who studies health care costs at the UT School of Public Health, says the first round of changes is dramatic.

The first measure allows children to stay on their parents insurance until age 26 instead of 23, but there is an exception.

"But only if they don't have insurance offered through an employer," Rosenau said.

Secondly, insurance companies can no longer exclude children who have pre-existing conditions. However, three companies, including Cigna, Coventryone and Wellpoint, decided to avoid this provision by not insuring children unless the children are covered under a family plan.

"This is an audacious move. This is something that could backfire," Rosenau said.

Third -- free preventative care. This means insurance companies must pay for three dozen services such as vaccinations, mammograms, colonoscopies, newborn hearing tests and osteoporosis screenings.

Next, there will be no limits on lifetime benefits while the caps on annual benefits increase to $750,000 a year and will eventually reach $2 million.

Companies also can no longer cancel your policy unless you lied.

"If you said you never had diabetes and you did and you knew it and you were tested for it; even in this case, they can cancel your policy but they have to give you 30 days notice," Rosenau said.

Finally, the law limits the profits insurance company can make, "Which means your insurance could cost less, your deductibles could go down," Rosenau said. "It could be much better for you."

There's help right now for those who can't get insurance because of pre-existing medical problems. A new federal program called the PCIP will offer you insurance until the national health exchanges go into effect in 2014.

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