Discussion about health care reform has generated a lot more heat than light. Much of the controversy has been grounded in politics, but the new federal law can be complex and confusing.
After all, the whole subject of medical insurance and public health care policy could qualify as rocket science, if only rockets were involved.
A report published last week explains in clear, plain language how the new law will affect Kentuckians. It was put together by Kentucky Voices for Health, a coalition of nearly 100 groups including AARP Kentucky, the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association, the Kentucky Council of Churches and the Catholic Conference of Kentucky.
The report paints a generally positive picture of how the law will affect Kentucky, the 47th-poorest state in per-capita income, at only 80 percent of the national average. And it provides an interesting group of statistics to show why reform was needed in Kentucky.
The report says that an estimated 626,000 of the state's 4.3 million people didn't have health insurance last year. About 80 percent of them have jobs, but many of those jobs are part-time or low-wage and don't include health insurance. Only 41 percent of Kentucky employers with fewer than 50 workers offer health insurance.
The report cites surveys conducted by University of Kentucky researchers that show that uninsured Kentuckians are three times more likely not to go to a doctor, twice as likely to skip a medical test or doctor-recommended treatment, and twice as likely not to fill a prescription than Kentuckians who have insurance.
How will the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 help Kentuckians?
For one thing, the report said, insurers will now be barred from denying coverage to people, including 920,000 Kentuckians, with pre-existing medical conditions. That part of the law takes effect Sept. 23 for children and will include everyone by 2014.
Expansion of Medicaid eligibility for poor people will extend coverage to an estimated 261,000 Kentuckians — or about 40 percent of the state's currently uninsured population — by 2014, the report says.
The law will allow 16,800 young adults in Kentucky, up to age 26, to remain on their parents' insurance policies if they don't have coverage available through their own employer.
That's a big deal. Not only has the lagging economy made the job market tough for young adults, but more and more entry-level jobs don't include health insurance. Nationally, about 30 percent of young adults now lack health insurance coverage, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The new law helps older people in two important ways, the report says.
There will be gradually better coverage for people who now fall into the Medicare prescription drug program's "donut hole" of cost-sharing. The report estimates that this will apply to 129,000 Kentucky seniors next year. In addition, about 63,200 Kentuckians will benefit from a reinsurance program for early retirees who are not yet old enough for Medicare.
The report also notes that, by 2014, the law will provide tax credits to 221,000 Kentucky families and 51,500 small businesses to help cover the cost of health insurance.
You can download the report and find more health care information and resources at the coalition's Web site, www.kyvoicesforhealth.org.
It remains to be seen how well this new law will deal with some fundamental problems, especially rising costs, in the nation's health and insurance systems. But this big first step in what is likely to be a long, continuing process of health care reform promises to at least put care within the reach of more Kentuckians.