NGLTF Salutes Signing Of Health Care Coverage Act
In a victory for advocates who have fought long and hard for health care reform, President Clinton today signed into law the Health Care Coverage Availability and Affordability Act of 1996. The act marks the first time any legislation has been adopted to protect people with preexisting medical conditions -- including HIV -- from total exclusion from health insurance coverage. Activists said the bill is an important step in protecting the health of all Americans, including people with AIDS.
"This new law breaks some major ground in the movement toward making health care insurance accessible to more Americans, including those living with HIV and AIDS," said Melinda Paras, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF), who attended the White House Rose Garden signing ceremony. "Many of the provisions in the bill will call for major changes in the current practice of some insurance companies, and make it more difficult for them to redline people with AIDS."
The new law, H.R. 3103, will no longer allow insurance companies to lock out from coverage people with preexisting medical conditions who move from one job to another. If a person moves from one job to another, he or she cannot be denied medical coverage in the new job for a preexisting condition, except for a one-time, 12-month exclusion for any such condition that was diagnosed or treated in the preceding six months. After the 12-month period, the condition would be covered. The 12-month exclusion is a lifetime limit so long as an individual maintains continuous coverage.
The law also blocks insurers from denying coverage or charging higher premiums to individuals in group plans who are in poor health. It also prohibits insurance companies from refusing to sell policies to small employers (those with two to 50 employees). In addition, the law provides a tax break for people with terminal illnesses who cash in their life insurance policies, as many people with AIDS have done.
At the same time NGLTF praised portions of the bill, it also pointed out its shortcomings.
"While the Kassebaum-Kennedy legislation is an important first step, it falls significantly short of addressing the critical issue of making health insurance both accessible and affordable for all Americans," said NGLTF's Paras. For example, the legislation sets no limit on the cost of health coverage nor does it address the fact that millions of Americans have no health coverage at all.
At least two other provisions in the bill caused concern for activists. One is the creation of a Medical Savings Accounts (MSAs) demonstration project, and the other regards patient confidentiality.
Under the MSAs project, specified individuals can purchase high-deductible health insurance plans while setting aside pre-tax dollars to pay for medical expenses. Activists say the problem with MSAs is that they are most likely to appeal to those who are in good health and who have the money to afford such savings accounts. And the more people who opt for MSAs, the fewer premium dollars are available in the insurance pool to pay doctor and hospital bills, which would result in higher premiums for the sick and poor who are left behind.
Although the bill requires steps to be taken toward the immediate electronic transfer of health information, it does not put into place protections to ensure patient privacy until 1998.
"Despite the positive aspects of the bill, there are still serious concerns regarding affordable health care for all Americans," said Paras.
The mission of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is to build the political power of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community from the ground up. We do this by training activists, organizing broad-based campaigns to defeat anti-LGBT referenda and advance pro-LGBT legislation, and by building the organizational capacity of our movement. Our Policy Institute, the movement’s premier think tank, provides research and policy analysis to support the struggle for complete equality and to counter right-wing lies. As part of a broader social justice movement, we work to create a nation that respects the diversity of human expression and identity and creates opportunity for all. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., we also have offices in New York City, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis and Cambridge.
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