Wicker on how health care bill will affect Mississippians - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

Wicker on how health care bill will affect Mississippians

Report From Congress
By Senator Roger F. Wicker

In my column last week, I gave an update on the health care bill that President Obama signed into law. I strenuously fought this government takeover of our nation's health care system, and I am working in Congress to repeal it and replace it with sensible, less expensive alternatives. Many Mississippians have questions about what this law will mean for them if it is not repealed. Below, I have answered some of the most frequently asked questions my office has received. I also invite readers to visit my website, www.wicker.senate.gov, which has a more robust list of health care reform questions and answers.

WHAT ARE THE TAX INCREASES IN THE BILL AND WILL THEY AFFECT ME?

The bill includes almost a half trillion dollars in new taxes, fees, and penalties on individuals and businesses. Over 73,000 households in Mississippi making less than $200,000 a year will see their taxes increase under this bill.

You will be fined if you fail to purchase government–approved health insurance. You have to pay either a flat tax or a tax that is a percentage of your income, whichever is greater. If you own a small business with more than 50 full-time employees, you will be required to provide insurance, or pay a fine, effective in 2014.

Health insurance companies will be required to pay a new annual tax of $6.7 billion. Drug manufacturers will have an annual tax of $2 billion. Medical device manufacturers will be required to pay a new tax of 2.3 percent. All of these tax increases are expected to be passed on to consumers through higher premiums, more expensive prescription medicine, and higher cost medical devices.

AM I REQUIRED TO PURCHASE HEALTH INSURANCE?

Yes, you will be required to purchase health care insurance beginning in 2014. More information can be found on noncompliance in the taxes section or on my website.

HOW DOES THIS BILL AFFECT MEDICARE?

In 2010, this bill will begin making cuts to the Medicare program, with over $100 billion in cuts to hospital, nursing home, and hospice reimbursements. When reimbursements are cut, fewer providers choose to participate in Medicare, so it may be harder for seniors to get care.

The other $400 billion in cuts to the Medicare program mostly will affect the 45,000 Mississippians who are enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan. These plans offer things that traditional Medicare does not cover, including vision, dental, and wellness programs.

HOW DOES THIS BILL AFFECT MEDICAID?

This bill will increase enrollment in Medicaid by about 15 million people. Mississippi, which has the highest percentage of enrollees in the nation, is already struggling to pay for our program. The federal government will pay for some of the costs of this increase, with borrowed money, but the state will eventually have to come up with the rest of the cost of this mandated expansion.

About 40 percent of doctors refuse to treat Medicaid patients because reimbursements are much lower than the cost of treatment. This bill provides increased federal funding for physician payments under Medicaid for two years. After two years, states or the federal government will have to come up with even more money or doctors will face a 50 percent cut in reimbursement.

I HAVE A PRE-EXISTING CONDITION. HOW CAN I GET INSURANCE?

For adults with pre-existing conditions, insurers are not required to sell you policies until 2014. You may qualify for the new federal high-risk pool that is being created as an interim measure.

I CANNOT AFFORD INSURANCE NOW. HOW DOES THIS BILL HELP ME?

This bill may help you in the future, but most of the subsidies and reforms do not take effect until 2014. With the new Medicaid expansion, you may qualify for coverage through Medicaid. If you make too much for Medicaid and do not receive health insurance through your job, you may receive subsidies in the form of tax credits. You may be eligible for some assistance, but it is likely that the cost of insurance will be higher than it is currently.

HOW IS THIS A "GOVERNMENT TAKE-OVER" OF OUR HEALTH CARE SYSTEM?

This bill creates 159 new programs, offices, and authorities for the federal government, and the Congressional Budget Office estimates that 25,000 new government workers will be needed to run these new programs. Over 16,000 of those will be IRS employees responsible for collecting the new taxes in the bill.

For more answers to questions on the constitutionality of the bill, its impact on small businesses, federal funding for abortion, and more, please visit www.wicker.senate.gov.

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