Posted by AzBlueMeanie:
Some laws take effect with the first of the year, so what's new in the new year?
Several provisions of the Affordable Care Act go into effect. The Washington Post reports New health-care rules to take effect:
The new rules include:
*A provision that limits what health insurers can do with the money their customers send in as premiums.
The rule requires that insurers spend at least 80 percent of this money on the customers themselves. The companies must either spend this money to pay insurance claims or use it for activities that improve customers' health.
For policies that are sold to large groups instead of small companies and individuals, the number is even higher: 85 percent. The remaining 15 or 20 percent of the money can be used for a company's salaries, marketing and overhead – or kept as profit.
Previously, there was no federal restrictions on insurance companies' spending. The federal government says some insurers kept 30 or even 50 percent.
Insurance companies say this could cause them to cut back on the services they offer, or even pull out of states where administrative costs are higher.
State officials also worry that the companies might cut the fees they pay to insurance brokers. That, they fear, would eliminate key middlemen who help individuals navigate a complicated insurance system.
*A provision that provides prescription-drug discounts for seniors in Medicare's "doughnut hole."
The doughnut hole is a controversial gap in the Medicare prescription-drug benefit passed in 2003. In 2010, for instance, Medicare paid for part of the cost of drugs – until the total cost of the drugs hit $2,830.
After that, seniors were responsible for 100 percent of the cost of their drugs, until they had spent $3,610 of their own money. That was the other side of the doughnut hole, and federal insurance kicked in again.
This provision will give Medicare recipients stuck in the doughnut hole a 50 percent discount on the price of brand-name prescription drugs. Health-care activists are worried, however, that drugmakers will jack up their prices. In that case, customers would receive 50 percent off that higher number – which might not be much less than what they were paying before.
*A rule giving seniors free screenings for cancer and other diseases.
Nearly all Medicare beneficiaries will be able to receive for free all "preventive services" screenings given an A or B rating by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. That could include mammograms, colorectal cancer screening, bone mass measurement and nutritional counseling. Medicare will also provide one free "wellness visit" per year for patients who want a checkup.
*The creation of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation.
This new agency is aimed at slowing down the rapid rise of health-care costs. It is supposed to foster innovation in both caring for patients and processing their payments and claims.
These provisions were not affected by the lone Dec. 13 federal court ruling in Virginia that declared another piece of the new health-care law – the individual insurance mandate – unconstitutional. The judge allowed implementation of the overhaul to continue until a higher court rules on the issue.
In Arizona and several other states with an indexed minimum wage, the minimum wage will go up a tick. Here is the press release from the Arizona AFL-CIO:
Arizona Minimum Wage Increase to Benefit Workers, State’s Economy
Arizona AFL-CIO: Minimum Wage Rewards Hard Work, Helps Working Families
Phoenix, AZ – Arizona is one of seven states where the minimum wage will be modestly increasing to keep pace with a rising cost of living on New Year’s Day 2011. Today, the Arizona AFL-CIO hailed the increase as crucial to helping working families and the economy recover during difficult economic times.
On January 1st, Arizona’s minimum wage will increase to $7.35 for hourly employees and $4.35 for tipped employees, based on a similar rise in the Consumer Price Index (CPI). The increase will primarily benefit adult workers and will not increase unemployment, according to the latest economic studies.
“The minimum wage gives workers a fighting chance to provide for their families,” said Rebekah Friend, Executive Director and Secretary/Treasurer of the Arizona AFL-CIO. “These yearly minimum wage adjustments are designed to keep low-paid workers from falling behind as prices rise.”
In a guest opinion in the Arizona Daily Star, Friend reacted to common misconceptions about the minimum wage. “These workers aren't simply high schoolers flipping burgers to pay for gas, as skeptics of the minimum wage sometimes portray them. Nationwide, adults make up more than 75 percent of those working for that rate.”
The Arizona AFL-CIO, together with a broad coalition of faith, community and labor groups, helped pass Proposition 202 in 2006 to raise the minimum wage to $6.75 an hour and index the rate to inflation.
Friend, a co-chair of the Raise the Minimum Wage Committee, noted that by 2006, the value of the minimum wage in Arizona had fallen to its lowest level in 51 years. “Today, working families are no longer held hostage to the politics of Congress or the state legislature when it comes to getting the raises they deserve,” said Friend. “Automatic yearly adjustments ensure that our community rewards hard work year after year.”
The process for making automatic adjustments proceeds according to an administrative process specified by Proposition 202. In October, the Industrial Commission of Arizona concluded that the minimum wage for 2011 would rise by just over 1%, given a 1.1% increase in inflation as measured by the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers. In the other states where the minimum wage is tied to cost-of-living indexes—Colorado, Montana, Ohio, Oregon, Vermont and Washington—wages rose by similar amounts. Approximately 675,000 workers nationwide and 68,000 in Arizona will benefit from increases to the minimum wage.
The Arizona AFL-CIO disputed critics who raised the specter of increased unemployment because of the small raise. “Recent economic studies have shown that moderate increases to the minimum wage don’t reduce employment,” said Friend, citing a recent study published in the Review of Economics and Statistics.
“In fact, because low income workers spend more of their income in the local economy,” she continued, “raising the minimum wage can help support our local businesses during these trying times.” An Economic Policy Institute study in 2009 called minimum wage increases a “stealthy stimulus” to the economy.
“Arizona voters chose to support working families in 2006 when we voted overwhelmingly to raise the minimum wage. Today, that vote is still paying off,” concluded Friend.