Clarifications to the health care reform law

The reforms are being implemented in stages until 2014, but several new changes will take affect this year. Beginning this summer, you'll have the right to appeal any decision made by your insurer.

"You're going to have the right to go to an outside appeals panel, an independent panel whose ruling is going to be binding. This is a huge new right," Nancy Metcalf from Consumer Reports Health said.

Proposed rate increases by health insurance companies sparked outrage in the state this year--and prompted these protestors to march outside Blue Shield headquarters in San Francisco in February. Blue Shield and several other companies have since delayed or rescinded those rate increases. Starting this year, the health care reform law would force companies to justify rate increases of 10 percent or more.

"They're going to have to explain why to the government and they are going to have to show why. And if these rates are determined to be unreasonable, consumers are going to be told that," Metcalf said.

Regulators will have no authority to order any rollbacks in rates. Those on Medicare will also see new benefits this year. everyone will be entitled to free preventive services, including a free annual checkup.

"Also the four million or so people on Medicare who get into that donut hole in that prescription medication, for their prescription medication, they're going to start getting a 50 percent discount on brand name drugs in the donut hole this year," Metcalf said.

Insurance companies are no longer able to put a cap on your annual or lifetime benefits and they can't drop you retroactively if you develop a serious illness. Children are also able to stay on their parents' health policy until age 26.

Consumer Reports is published by Consumers Union. Both Consumer Reports and Consumers Union are not-for-profit organizations that accept no advertising. Neither has any commercial relationship with any advertiser or sponsor on this site.

(All Consumer Reports Material Copyright 2010. Consumers Union of U.S. Inc. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.)

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