West Virginia supporters of the new federal health care law heralded provisions taking effect Thursday, and blasted the pledge unveiled by congressional Republicans to repeal the historic overhaul.

Executive Director Perry Bryant and other members of West Virginians for Affordable Health Care also vowed to step up their efforts to combat what they called misconceptions and myths about the sweeping measure. That effort includes holding town hall-style meetings around the state over the next two months.

“We, including myself, have not done a good enough job of explaining the legislation,” Bryant said at a Capitol press conference. “It is the most complex public policy initiative that I’ve dealt with in 30 years.”

Numerous changes to the nation’s health care system arrive with the six-month anniversary of the lawsuit’s passage.

Several extend to all health plans: insurers can no longer cap lifetime benefits, or cancel coverage retroactively when a policyholder runs up high bills; children on their parents’ policies can stay covered until age 26.

For all group and new individual health plans, insurers are barred from capping annual benefits or excluding children with pre-existing medical conditions.

Several changes apply only to new plans, including one that extends coverage to include preventive and wellness care without co-payments or deductibles. Another bars higher rates when a policyholder obtains emergency care out of the insurer’s network of providers.

Bryant’s group cited West Virginians encountered during its previous education campaign who would be helped by these provisions. They included a Morgantown family who hit their policy’s lifetime cap because of a child’s illness. Another resident, a convenience store worker, was uninsured and eventually died from what they said was a treatable thyroid condition.

Group member Sam Hickman, head of the state’s social worker association, said the legislation will help his mother and other seniors with prescription drug costs while allowing coverage for his 23-year-old son. Hickman noted that his family’s plan and others that follow a calendar year won’t actually change until Jan. 1, however.

“These are fundamental changes,” Bryant said. “They are a down payment on the full-blown reforms that will begin Jan. 1, 2014.”

But the insurance industry is already balking at the changes. Several, for instance, say they will stop selling new child-only individual insurance policies because they face covering potentially costly pre-existing conditions.

Bryant said the new law includes several provisions meant to hold down costs. But the head of West Virginia’s largest private health insurer believes the legislation falls short in that area.

Fred Early, president of Mountain State Blue Cross Blue Shield, estimated that the changes to coverage will increase its premiums by 2 to 3 percent. Early said West Virginia’s provider groups have begun to collaborate on possible ways to address medical inflation, but would be doing so with or without the federal overhaul.

A recent Associated Press, meanwhile, found that Americans still do not really know what the law does.

More than half of those surveyed, for instance, mistakenly believe the overhaul will raise taxes for most people this year, an Associated Press poll finds. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that the changes will reduce the federal deficit over time, but 81 percent of those polled believed the opposite.


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