The Affordable Care Act: What it means for you in 2012

The Affordable Care Act, signed into law in March of 2010, provides broad healthcare reform with most pieces being implemented between 2010 and 2014. Here is an overview of the changes that take affect this year.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) that was passed into law in March 2010 was put into place to provide comprehensive healthcare reform with most parts of the law being implemented over the following four years. The overall goals of the Affordable Care Act were to put new consumer protections into place, improve quality and lower costs, increasing access to affordable care and accountability for insurance companies.

To give a summary what has been enacted so far, in 2010 most preventive services became cost-free and a Patient’s Bill of Rights went into effect, which aimed to protect consumers from abuse from insurance companies such as denying coverage for a preexisting condition. In 2011, Medicare recipients were able to receive preventive services for free and discounts on prescriptions.

For 2012 the pieces of the law coming into effect pertain to the goals of improving quality, lowering costs and increasing access to affordable care. There are five specific parts that are rolling out in 2012:

  • Encouraging integrated health systems
    Effective Jan. 1, 2012, physicians will receive incentives for joining together for form Accountable Care Organizations (ACO). These groups would allow doctors to better coordinate care for patients, therefore improving quality of care of patients, managing chronic conditions more effectively and reducing unnecessary hospital admissions. If the ACO can reduce costs and provide quality care, they will be compensated with some of the money they help save.
  • Understanding and fighting health disparities
    As of March 2012, the law requires any new or existing federal health program to collect and report racial, ethnic and language data in an effort to recognize and reduce ongoing health disparities.
  • Linking payment to quality outcomes
    A new Value-Based Purchasing program for hospitals will be established, which is an incentive program for hospitals to improve patient outcomes with regards to Medicare. Hospitals will be required to report several quality measures, and those that follow best practice and have high quality of care will be compensated with funds that Medicare would normally use for hospital stays. This shifts the payment structure so that payments are made based on performance rather than volume. This becomes effective Oct. 1, 2012.
  • Reducing paperwork and administrative costs
    The law is requiring health plans to switch to secure, confidential electronic medical records for exchanging health information. In doing so there is less paperwork and administrative burden and will save money and reduce errors. The first regulation of electronic medical records is effective Oct. 1, 2012.
  • Providing new, voluntary options for long-term care insurance
    The ACA created a voluntary long-term care insurance program called Community Living Assistance Services and Supports (CLASS) which would provide cash benefits to adults who become disabled. As of Oct. 2011, Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, submitted a report to Congress stating that implementation of this program is not feasible at this time.

This is just a brief overview of the changes happening in 2012 because of the Affordable Care Act.

For more information go to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Health Care website.

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