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Federal Healthcare Reform: Overview

After a contentious debate that dragged on for a year, President Obama signed into law sweeping federal healthcare reform legislation (H.R. 3590) on March 23, 2010. A reconciliation bill, (H.R. 4872), to fix aspects of the major bill also passed and was signed March 30. Both bills passed with unanimous opposition from Republicans.

Advocates hailed passage of the bills as an overdue victory for the uninsured which will prevent insurance company abuses that have kept people from being able to purchase affordable health insurance. Opponents decried both the method in which the law passed as well as its substance, arguing that the law’s mandate on individuals to purchase insurance is unconstitutional and that healthcare costs will continue to soar in the future.

Together these two federal healthcare reform laws create tighter regulations on health insurers and extend health insurance to 32 million uninsured individuals over 10 years. Specifically, the new laws remove lifetime benefit caps on insurance plans and ban insurance company practices such as denying coverage to individuals because of pre-existing conditions. Most individuals in the nation will be required to purchase insurance or face financial penalties in the future. New state-run insurance exchanges will be set up and subsidies will be available to assist those who meet income eligibility criteria in paying their insurance premiums. Changes to the Medicare prescription drug program will also help close a gap in coverage.

Federal Healthcare Reform: Implementation Challenges

Some of the federal healthcare reform law's provisions take effect almost immediately (such as removing the lifetime caps on insurance coverage), while others will be phased in over the coming years (such as fines on employers with 50 or more employees who fail to offer health insurance coverage). Now that the bills have passed, the task turns to implementing the laws through the regulatory process.

With many on both sides of the aisle calling the legislation imperfect, future challenges and modifications to the law are likely. Supporters won a huge victory on June 28, 2012 when the Supreme Court ruled by a 5-to-4 majority to uphold the bulk of the federal healthcare reform law. Republicans have vowed to continue their efforts to repeal the law through the legislative process. As federal healthcare reform legislation continues to evolve, we will work to regularly update this issue site with the most relevant news articles, reports and other helpful resources.