Health Care Reform: Immediate Good News for Some Cancer Patients

by Barbara A. Brenner

All the news media in the last few weeks have focused on the fact that the United States has finally started down the road to a health care system where everyone has access to the care they need. At BCA, we’re thrilled, but we’re also keeping a watchful eye on the situation.

While it’s not easy to grasp all that the new health care reform legislation will ultimately mean for cancer patients, we know the benefits that will go into effect quickly will have a huge impact on many lives.

Under the law, a high risk insurance pool will be created this year to guarantee affordable health coverage for people with medical problems.

Within six months, the law ends annual or lifetime caps on coverage of insurance policies. Cancer therapies are so expensive that people quickly reach those caps, so this is a very important step in assuring that people can get the care they need if they have insurance.

At the same time as the end to caps on coverage, the law prohibits insurance companies from canceling insured people who get sick, unless fraud is involved.

Also in 2010, the law will provide subsidies for small businesses and nonprofits to encourage them to provide health insurance for their employees.

And for Medicare patients, the famous doughnut hole that results in seniors paying all their drug costs for a period of time will begin to close with a rebate payment. The doughnut hole will not completely close until 2020.

While it will take longer, the prohibition on insurance companies refusing to cover people with preexisting medical conditions, which takes effect in 2014, will also be of great benefit to cancer patients.

So, while the early benefits are promising, they’re mostly of use to people who already have insurance. And whether the costs of these policies will rise as the companies are forced to cover more sick people for longer is still an open question.

How all this will play out over time will be interesting to watch, but we know this is a step in the right direction, and we anticipate that more will be done as the realities unfold. At least, we hope that’s true.

Of course, we would have been far happier with a public option, limits on what drug companies can charge, and lots of other things. But the new legislation is a good — and, in fact, a historic — start.

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