Over the past two weeks, as democrats have celebrated the hard-won victory of historic health care reform, many Americans — and USM students — have wondered exactly what the bill means to them.

The bill won’t take full effect until 2014, but some reforms will be enacted this year. As far as college students are concerned, the biggest one is likely the provision allowing young people to stay on their parents’ health insurance until age 26.

Another effect students might see is a tax on tanning. Indoor tanning salons will begin charging patrons a 10 percent tax for services on July 1 of this year.

The bill is historic because of its scope: by 2014, coverage would be extended to roughly 32 million people who previously didn’t have insurance — basically by making it mandatory to have health insurance. Starting in 2014, uninsured Americans would face a federal fine. During the first year, those without insurance would face a fine of $95, or 1 percent of their income, whichever is greater. In subsequent years, the fine would increase, until it reaches $695 or 2 percent of income.

The fines are a way to provide incentive for people to have coverage. “It will be cheaper to have insurance,” said Andrew Coburn, chair of the Institute for Health Policy & Research Center at the Muskie School.

Also by 2014, employers with more than 50 employees will be required to offer insurance to workers. The government this year will also provide tax credits to small businesses that provide health insurance to their employees.

“If you as a student are buying insurance individually, what this bill is going to do is provide a national set of regulatory stands for the national market,” said Coburn.

By 2014, the government plans to set up an exchange where Americans can shop for different plans. The bill also allows insurance companies to sell plans across state lines, opening the market to people who previously had to buy insurance from one or two companies.

“Right now, you’ve got a disorganized insurance market out here. In an exchange, there would be an organized marketplace where you as an individual would go,” said Coburn. “The exchanges will enable citizens to access subsidies available depending on their income.”

To Coburn, the bill isn’t perfect. Many supporters of health care reform have derided the bill’s lack of a public option, a government-run health insurance program that would offer lower rates to compete with established insurance companies.

“I’m not as strong a supporter of the private insurance companies as Congress,” said Coburn. “I think Congress did what they could do.”


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