Capitol Hill Bureau Chief
Since the beginning of the health care reform debate, I've been swamped with questions from readers about the finer points of the bills moving through Congress. Now that health reform is the law, I'm pulling out the most asked questions to answer them for everybody.
I'll start with a few easy ones today, and will get into the more detailed questions as the week goes on. So here we go...
Pete wants to know, "Who will run health care in the U.S.?"
Good question, Pete. Contrary to some rumors, the reform law is not a full-blown "government takeover of health care." The huge majority of Americans will still have health insurance through their employers, and most will still be covered by private insurers. And unlike socialized medical systems around the world, most doctors will still work for private hospitals, for private health care providers or for themselves.
However, the bill will give the federal government a much larger role in determining what kind of health care you get and how much insurance will cost. First, the bill will establish minimum levels of coverage for any insurance plan, no matter where it comes from, and the Health and Human Services secretary will ultimately decide what has to be covered.
Also, to give more than 30 million additional people access to health insurance, the bill will put about 15 million into Medicaid, the government insurance program for low-income Americans. To make insurance more affordable, the federal government also will pick up the cost of some or all premiums for families making up to $88,000 a year.
Finally, the government will require individuals to purchase health insurance (that's the "individual mandate") and fine businesses with more than 50 employees if they don't cover their workers. The feds will then collect penalties from individuals and large businesses that do not comply with the new federal requirements. How will they get your money? The same way as always -- through the IRS. Darrell asks, "Can you tell me when the student loan overhaul is set for and any other details you have on that portion of the bill?"
Darrell, the changes to federal student loans start on July 1. The measure does not change anything about private student loans. It also does not change anything about loans that have already been taken out. If you're like me and are just plugging away at student loans years after graduation, it also does not affect you. But if you're planning on going to school or sending a child to school, see our primer on the new system HERE.
And finally, Anne writes, "I'm writing because while I was watching President Obama sign the health care reform bills, I noticed he would sign each form with a different pen. Why?"
Anne, you have eagle eyes. Yes, President Obama used 22 pens to sign the first health care bill and 17 to sign the second bill, sometimes signing half of a letter with each pen. As you can imagine, the historic pens are highly sought-after and are given to the president's allies, who supported the bill along the way, as well as to museums and universities later on.