10 Things You Need to Know About the Healthcare Stimulus
Barack Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 was signed on February 17, and is already beginning to filter out funds to hopefully stimulate the economy. One of the principal goals of the package is to reform the health care system while creating jobs and insuring more Americans. Through measures to support the unemployed, integrate cutting-edge information technology systems into medical networks, and insuring more children, the act may in some way affect how you receive health care. Find out how.
- Health care industry set to go tech: One of Obama’s umbrella strategies for reforming health care and stimulating the economy involves pumping money into health care technology systems. He hopes to create a health information network for hospitals, rural and urban clinics, and other health care centers by making all medical records electronic; making existing medical technologies more accurate and effective; and reducing errors in medical care. This technology boost to the health care system will, Obama hopes, save money, create jobs, and improve the standards and delivery of health care and medical information. The Dallas Business Journal reports that the stimulus package will invest $19 billion for health information technology.
- The unemployed will still receive health care benefits, at least temporarily: Obama plans to ease the burden of health care costs for the unemployed and reduce the number of uninsured Americans by extending Medicaid benefits to the unemployed, at least for a time. Individuals who get unemployment checks would also be able to receive Medicaid, as would their spouses and children who are under the age of 19, reported the New York Times in January. States will receive federal aid to help ease Medicaid costs. In late February 2009, TheState.com reported that Obama "released $15 billion in economic stimulus Medicaid funds for states" to disperse.
- Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act of 2009: The Senate and House reformed the Children’s Health Insurance Program under this legislation, which extends insurance to nearly 4 million more children by reworking the Social Security Act. The program will help families of low-income children who do not qualify for Medicaid pay for their health insurance, and states will still be able to set their own income eligibility requirements. The program is funded by a tax increase on cigarettes.
- Governors hold power over releasing funds: While the federal government has designed and approved the health care stimulus package, governors are in charge of actually releasing funds, creating eligibility requirements when appropriate, and overseeing the implementation of the stimulus plan in their states. In late February, governors like Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal (R), opposed many parts of the economic plan and may reject at least some of the money that is coming to their state from the federal government. The New Orleans Times-Picayune reports on Nola.com that Jindal will most likely accept the Medicaid supplements, but according to Medical News Today, other governors are begrudging about accepting funds that are meant to be used in a specific way. Instead, governors like New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch (D) are arguing for more flexibility in how they disperse the federal funds.
- Federal government helps states fund COBRA for unemployed: The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) gives individuals who are laid off, retired, switching between jobs, or have dependents at the time they stop working the option to continue their group health benefits for a limited time. Some beneficiaries may have to pay for the group rate insurance, however, but the U.S. Department of Labor holds that "COBRA generally requires that group health plans sponsored by employers with 20 or more employees in the prior year offer employees and their families the opportunity for a temporary extension of health coverage." Under Obama’s stimulus plan, the federal government will provide states with subsidies to help offset the costs of COBRA. They will pay for up to 65% of COBRA premiums "for eligible workers who are involuntarily terminated," according to the accounting firm Amper, Politziner and Mattia. Qualifying workers include those who have been involuntarily terminated on and after September 1, 2008, and qualifying employers include those who are subject to COBRA legislation, as well as small employers who are subject to State Continuation legislation.
- Job training funding for those entering health care industry: In another measure to stimulate the economy while improving health care standards, Obama plans to increase job training opportunities for those entering the health care industry. The stimulus budget has allotted $750,000,000 "for a program of competitive grants for worker training and placement in high growth and emerging industry sectors," $500,000,000 of which will go to renewable energy programs. The rest will be distributed by the Secretary of Labor "giv[ing] priority to projects that prepare workers for careers in the health care sector."
- Preventive care takes precedent: In his address to Congress in February, Barack Obama outlined the promised benefits of his economic stimulus benefits, highlighting the fact that the health care reform boasts "the largest investment ever in preventive care, because that is one of the best ways to keep our people healthy and our costs under control." According to a report by NPR, this move would also create jobs, at least in the short term, even if it did not result in sustainable medical research projects, as hoped.
- A contract for accountability: In order to promote accountability in health care reform and to make sure that all of this funding is actually helping the economy and the health care industry, Obama’s plan includes a contract between the federal government and the Institute of Medicine. The stimulus package outlines that the $1.5 million contract will require the Institute to "produce and submit a report to the Congress and the Secretary [of Health and Human Services] by not later than June 30, 2009, that includes recommendations on the national priorities for comparative effectiveness research" that will eventually be subjected to public commentary and review.
- Health IT dominates in all areas of medical industry: The stimulus package lists several ways in which new health care information systems and technologies will help the facilitation of medical care and the industry as a whole. These include the exchange of patient medical records and a subsequent reduction in wait times at hospitals and health care facilities; the increase of telemedicine technologies for those living in rural areas and who do not have access to cutting edge medical resources; "technologies that help reduce medical errors;" and "technologies that meet the needs of diverse populations."
- Total health care stimulus cost: $150 billion: The total cost of all these (and more) health care reforms under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 is $150 billion, according to the Dallas Business Journal, including $17 billion for Medicare and Medicaid incentive programs, $2 billion for technology grants, and $19 billion for a health information technology movement.
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