America's medical record isn't so pretty: Though we spend more on health care than any other developed country, we finish last in terms of quality, according to a new report by the Commonwealth Fund. Who's getting the rawest deal? Young people. Turns out, a whopping one in three 19- to 29-year-olds has no coverage, the highest uninsured rate of any age-group. Enter the Affordable Care Act, passed in March after decades of stalled efforts. While the bulk of the bill won't be in effect until 2014, you can take advantage of a few important changes right now.
You Can Stick with Your Parents' Plan
So you got a degree and a great gigÃ¢â‚¬”but then a pink slip. You might have to beg Mom and Dad for rent money, but they won't have to pitch in for your health insurance. Anyone under 26 can now partake (or reenroll) in their family plan until they find a job with benefits. And that's without tripping over your high school trophies: "You don't actually have to live with your parents to qualify," says U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. "You can be married or have a job. As long as your employer doesn't offer coverage, you're eligible."
Beef Up on Prevention
Your routine gyno checkup, your skin exam, your flu shot...these things can really add up. Even if you have health insurance, all those copays and deductibles can be enough to make you relegate preventive care to the back burner. Now you can wrangle costly treatments and servicesÃ¢â‚¬”stuff like vaccines, Pap smears, pregnancy screenings, and cholesterol and diabetes testsÃ¢â‚¬”for free if you have a new health plan. (By "new health plan," we mean one you've just signed up for; if you're already covered, your insurer might not have to play by the new rules just yet.) See healthcare.gov for a list of gratis treatments.
If You're Dropped, You Can Fight Back
"Applying for health insurance on your own can be really, really complicated," says David Nather, author of The New Health Care System. "Nobody can remember every little thing they need to report." Until now, a seemingly innocuous paperwork glitch (as in, you forgot to report that one time your blood pressure or cholesterol spiked) was grounds for dropped coverageÃ¢â‚¬”especially if you suddenly and expensively became sick with, say, breast or ovarian cancer. Under the new plan it's illegal for companies to cut you off at your most serious health moments. And if you think you've still been bumped for falling ill, new state-by-state appeal boards will help you with your case.
Say Bye-Bye to Annual and Lifetime Limits
Plans that max out at a certain dollar amount (say, $1 million) aren't a big deal for the fit and healthy, but they are bad news for people who have been in severe accidents or have chronic illnesses. No more: New and renewed plans can no longer impose lifetime dollar limits, and soon there will be minimum benefit rules for things like hospital stays and prescription medications. "This gets us away from skimpy coverage plans that have these enormous holes you could drive a truck through," says Nather. "Some plans used to say, 'We'll cover up to 30 days in the hospital, but only after the first day.' Of course, all the major expenses occur in that first day."