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A New Era in Health Care Begins Today

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This morning, millions of Americans gained access to more stable and comprehensive health insurance, thanks to important provisions of the new health reform law -- also known as the Affordable Care Act -- that take effect today. These changes could not have come soon enough. New census data show that a record-breaking 50.7 million Americans -- from all income levels, but many of them firmly in the middle-class -- lacked health insurance in 2009. That's a spike of over 4 million in one year, driven by a recession that has left millions without jobs. Last year, nearly 7 million people lost insurance they had previously obtained through an employer.

The reform provisions that go into effect today will bring coverage, financial relief and health security to many, and will also impose important new rules on the insurance industry to prevent future abuses.

As of today, young adults up to age 26 will have the option to enroll in a parent's health plan. Young adults between the ages of 19 and 29 are one of the largest segments of the uninsured; 13.7 million lacked coverage in 2008. Young adults often lose coverage when they age out of their parents' coverage upon graduating from high school or college, or when they become ineligible for public programs like Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program at age 19. In 2014, they will also be able to gain coverage under Medicaid expansion or through state health insurance exchanges with subsidized coverage for people will low or moderate incomes. One million young adults (and their parents) are likely to take advantage of these important changes.

As of today, insurers can no longer place lifetime limits on benefits, and annual limits are severely curtailed. More than 100 million people currently have lifetime limits on the amount that their health insurance will pay, and 18 million have annual limits.

As of today, insurers can no longer retroactively cancel, or rescind, coverage. In what often becomes a nightmare scenario for ill patients and their families, more than 10,000 people each year have their coverage rescinded -- frequently just at the moment they need the coverage the most. Rescissions are no longer allowed.

As of today, there are new options for as many as 400,000 people with preexisting health conditions, who will immediately be able to enroll in new state-based insurance plans, and for the parents of thousands of children with preexisting conditions, who can no longer be denied health insurance for these youngsters.

Medicare beneficiaries who hit the prescription drug coverage gap or "doughnut hole" this year have already begun receiving $250 rebates. And, as of today, Medicare will eliminate cost-sharing for preventive care, and will provide for an annual wellness visit with no copayment. Next year, Medicare will provide a 50 percent discount on brand-name drugs to Medicare Part D enrollees who spend enough on prescription drugs to enter the doughnut hole. And additional discounts on brand-name and generic drugs will be phased in to completely close the doughnut hole for all Part D enrollees by 2020.

A new era in American health care begins today, one that will usher in a new found health and economic security for millions who have struggled too long. But even with all the relief that will come starting today, the record losses in coverage experienced by millions of middle-income families point to the need to accelerate implementation of health reform to provide help faster. This is not the time to be talking about repealing health reform. It is urgently needed. The nation cannot afford to ignore the plight of millions of Americans whose health is at risk, and whose health and productivity are key to revitalizing the American economy.