health-care.jpgBay Area residents have been celebrating new medical policies enacted this year, but many are still wondering when the Affordable Care Act will benefit their households.

“People have asked me: when is healthcare reform going to kick in?” said Micah Weinberg, senior research fellow at New American Foundation. “And I don’t have the answer they want to hear.”

Weinberg and four other medical professionals addressed concerns at a panel talk today about the Affordable Care Act, a bill signed by President Barack Obama on March 23 that took effect June 23.

About 50 individuals attended the talk, held at the main branch of the San Francisco Public Library, and discussed worries about treatment for people with pre-existing conditions and the looming possibility of continuing hikes in coverage costs.

The state approved a cost increase of about 14 percent for individual policies at Anthem Blue Cross and about 19 percent for Blue Shield of California in August.

“When it comes to cost, getting people covered is a big step in trying to address the underlying cost issue,” said Paul Markovich, chief operating officer of Blue Shield.

“We’re going to end up insuring a couple of families in Beverly Hills and Palo Alto if this keeps going because they’ll be the only people that can afford health insurance.”

The Affordable Care Act also aims to help senior citizens keep their Social Security checks by absorbing some prescription costs.

Effective in June, senior citizens paying more than $2,800 in prescriptions are eligible for a $250 rebate.

Small businesses also benefit from the bill. For-profit organizations are eligible for 35 percent tax incentives for group medical plans, and nonprofits are eligible for 25 percent incentives, effective Sept. 23.

“Almost half a million small businesses in California will be eligible for the new tax credits to help provide coverage to workers,” said Herb Schultz, a director at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

But not everyone has benefited from the new bill.

While children with pre-existing conditions can now get coverage, adults are only eligible to enter a temporary high-risk pool, according to the bill. Eligibility for the pool is only available after the person has been uninsured for six months.

In 2014, the pool will be eliminated and replaced with health insurance exchanges, which should allow patients to purchase insurance regardless of medical history. But 2014 is “a long way off,” Weinberg said.

California public high schools also have a grant program written into the Affordable Care Act for their medical programs, but they have yet to see any money come out from the policy.

“It’s like a shell,” said Serena Clayton, executive director of California Health Centers Association. “They built the shell but there’s nothing in it until they appropriate funds.”

The bill is meant to appropriate $100 million for schools, likely to be used nationally for repairing old equipment and buying new pieces for high school medical centers, according to the association’s website.

“There are many parts of healthcare reform in this situation,” Clayton said. “Many programs have been authorized, but the funding hasn’t been appropriated.”

Saul Sugarman, Bay City News

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