Politics & Government

Health care overhaul may not have immediate effect on insurance policies

Millions of Americans are now engaged in a familiar ritual: signing up for next year's health insurance coverage.

Pick a plan. Pick a premium. Make sure choices are submitted and approved on time.

But roughly half of those millions, according to a recent survey, are worried. They think the health care reform plan now working its way through Congress may force them to make major changes in their health plans quickly — perhaps within weeks — if it passes.

With one important exception, they can probably relax. Many of the major components of health reform won't take effect until 2013.

That means the structure of existing plans won't dramatically change Jan. 1, even if President Barack Obama signs a bill before Christmas as Democratic lawmakers want. It also means major spending on insurance subsidies for the poor and middle class are years away.

Premiums, though, are another matter. While the exact language isn't known, experts expect the final measure to place new regulations on insurance companies almost immediately — while postponing for three years the requirement that everyone have insurance.

That's a recipe, they say, for higher costs for you and your employer, perhaps as early as 2010.

"You aren't going to have to throw everything out the window," said Ed Haislmaier of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington. "But there's a lot that can be done prior to 2013 on the regulatory side that will have the effect of driving up costs."

A lobbying group called America's Health Insurance Plans made the same point in a letter to House members before the Nov. 7 approval of a health reform plan.

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