Six months after Congress passed and the president signed the new health care reform law, Americans are already seeing the benefits.

Six months after Congress passed and the president signed the new health care reform law, Americans are already seeing the benefits.

Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, thousands of Americans who had been shut out of the health insurance market are now getting coverage through new pre-existing condition insurance plans. More than a million eligible seniors and people with disabilities who have fallen into the so-called Medicare prescription-drug doughnut hole have received $250 checks to help them afford their medications.  And many small businesses are getting help too – tax credits this year to make it easier for them to provide coverage to their workers, and 94,300 small businesses in Missouri may be eligible.

Today and in the months ahead, our focus is on implementing these solutions effectively, and getting the benefits to the people who need them.

We have rolled out powerful new resources for consumers like the popular website,, where, for the first time ever, you can visit a single website that will tell you all your health insurance options. Starting in October, the website will also contain basic pricing information, so you’ll have all the information you need to make the right decision for you and your family at your fingertips.

The new law is also building a stronger foundation for our health care system.

Prevention must be the cornerstone of any effort to help people stay well, live healthier lives and reduce health care costs. So Medicare will now cover the entire cost of seniors’ annual wellness visits with their physician. The law protects seniors’ guaranteed Medicare benefits while also eliminating co-pays altogether for many recommended preventive services like screenings for colon or breast cancer.

We have also already begun training more doctors, nurses, and other primary care providers, so all Americans can see a health care provider whenever they or their families need care. Combined with investments we are making in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, we will be able to place more than 16,000 dedicated health care professionals across the country over the next five years. And by investing in community health centers we will nearly double the number of patients they serve from 20 million a year to 40 million.

This week is reason for celebration as important new consumer protections from the new law start to take effect, marking a turning point for the insurance industry.  It’s no longer business as usual. Now patients are going to be in charge of their care.  For example, the next time your coverage renews:

Insurance companies will no longer be able to cancel your policy just because you made a minor mistake on an application.
  Insurance companies will no longer be able to place lifetime dollar limits on your benefits that result in people losing their insurance when they need it most, in the middle of a crisis. Insurance companies, in many cases, will no longer be allowed to refuse to sell you a policy to cover your child just because she was born with asthma or some other pre-existing medical condition.


And insurance companies in many cases, will no longer be allowed to refuse to pay a doctor or hospital bill without giving you the chance to appeal to a group of outside experts.  

As these reforms take effect, they also serve as a bridge until 2014, when still more important benefits of the new law kick in. New health insurance exchanges will allow families and small businesses to purchase affordable insurance – the same coverage as members of Congress – regardless of their health status. And to help make sure coverage is affordable, millions of Americans will benefit from the largest middle class tax cut for health care in American history to help them pay for it.

The new law is not perfect – no law is.  But it is already making a huge difference in Americans’ lives.

Judy Baker is the regional director for the Department of Health and Human Services, Region 7, Kansas City.