WASHINGTON The Affordable Care Acts biggest year is, without a doubt, 2014. Thats when federal subsidies to purchase health insurance roll out. Its also when penalties for not buying coverage kick in.
But many of the big changes will start gradually in 2013. They range from increasing payments to Medicaid doctors to upping Medicare taxes to the exchanges first open-enrollment period.
Heres a quick guide to what will happen in health care in the next year.
HEALTH-CARE COST GROWTH WILL SLOW TO A NEW LOW
The United States is expected to spend $2.9 trillion on health care in 2013, according to actuaries at the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services. That would be 3.8 percent more than the $2.8 trillion we spent in 2012, according to CMS estimates.
That 3.8 percent growth rate, if it actually happens, would be the slowest health-care growth in decades. That has little to do with the Affordable Care Act, the CMS actuaries explain, and a lot more to do with slow income growth. Consumers are expected to remain sensitive to rising health costs, particularly given continued low projected income growth, they write. In this environment, consumers are likely to continue to be judicious in their use of health-care services.
YOUR MEDICARE TAXES WILL INCREASE
Some people mark the turning of the new year with champagne and kisses. The Affordable Care Act has something slightly different in mind: Two new taxes to finance Medicare. Both are meant to bring in additional revenue to continue funding the health-care program for seniors.
Employers already take out 7.65 percent of workers wages to support the elderly and disabled. Of that, 1.45 percent goes toward paying Medicares hospital bills. The Affordable Care Act increase that tax by 0.9 percent, beginning in 2013, for anyone who earns more than $200,000 ($250,000 for joint filers). It also creates a new, 3.8-percent tax on investment income, setting income thresholds at the same $200,000 and $250,000 levels. Taken together, those two provisions are expected to generate $210.2 billion over the next decade.
YOUR INSURANCE PLAN WILL BE EXPLAINED IN PLAIN LANGUAGE
Say goodbye to insurance forms with 8-point font that stretch on for dozens of pages. Starting in 2013, the Affordable Care Act requires insurance companies to send their subscribers a standardized, easy-to-understand, four-page summary of benefits and coverage. Think of it as a nutrition label for health insurance.
This requirement actually kicked in a few months ago: Health insurance plans with open enrollment periods after Sept. 23, 2012, were required to offer this information. For anyone buying insurance from a plan with earlier open enrollment, these summaries will show up for the first time in 2013.
PRIMARY CARE PROVIDERS IN MEDICAID WILL GET A 73-PERCENT RAISE
The Congressional Budget Office estimates that Medicaid will gain 7 million new enrollees in 2014 as a result of the health law expanding the program to people who have incomes up to 133 percent above the poverty line. The federal government wants to make sure that doctors keep serving that population, even though the Medicaid program tends to pay physicians less than private insurance. Thats why the act will boost primary care reimbursements in Medicaid to match those of Medicare for 2013 and 2014. On average, that will mean a 73-percent raise for Medicaid doctors, although theres a lot of state-by-state variation.
THE AFFORDABLE CARE ACT EXCHANGES WILL OPEN FOR BUSINESS
We often talk about January 1, 2014 as the date that states need to be ready for the health reform law. But when you talk to the states actually working to roll out the law, they often talk about October 1, 2013 as a more significant deadline. Thats the day when the health exchanges open for business, when any American can go online, compare plans and, if they want, purchase health insurance. This is true for state-operated health exchanges and for exchanges run by the federal government.