On January 6, The Commonwealth Fund cosponsored with AARP and Women in Government the third installment in the webinar series on realizing health reform's potential. Titled "Realizing Health Reform’s Potential: Adults Ages 50–64 and the Affordable Care Act of 2010," this webinar focused on the unique problems facing men and women between the ages of 50 and 64, and how the Affordable Care Act will help ensure that baby boomers who lose employer health benefits—whether as a result of a layoff or early retirement—have ready access to affordable and comprehensive insurance.
Michelle M. Doty, Ph.D., assistant vice president and director of survey research at The Commonwealth Fund, summarized findings from The Commonwealth Fund Biennial Health Insurance Survey highlighting the difficulties older adults have finding affordable coverage. Seventy-five percent of uninsured older adults reported having problems accessing care because of costs, nearly 70 percent cited problems paying their medical bills, and 46 percent reported delaying or not getting preventive care due to costs.
Sara R. Collins, Ph.D., vice president of the Commonwealth Fund's Affordable Health Insurance program, discussed the specific provisions in the Affordable Care Act that will improve coverage for older adults. Early provisions that will benefit older adults include: preexisting condition insurance plans that offer coverage to people with health problems who have been uninsured for at least six months; bans on lifetime coverage limits; and a requirement that employers and insurers cover preventive services such as colorectal cancer screenings, mammograms, and flu and pneumonia vaccinations without cost sharing. Other provisions, to go into effect in 2014 or later, will also improve coverage for older adults, including: substantial expansions in eligibility for Medicaid; creation of state insurance exchanges with tax credits to help pay for premiums and out-of-pocket costs; and restrictions that will prohibit insurance carriers from denying coverage on the basis of health or age.
Richard G. Frank, Ph.D., deputy assistant secretary for disability, aging, and long-term care policy at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, discussed the Community Living Assistance Services and Support (CLASS) program under the Affordable Care Act, a national, voluntary insurance program for purchasing community living or institutional services. It was designed to encourage people to sign up for insurance coverage through their jobs that will help protect them from the costs of services should they become disabled and in need long-term support at home or in nursing homes. With large portions of a growing older adult population in need of such services and simultaneously facing financial hardships, the CLASS program provides new ways of financing long-term support.
John Rother, J.D., executive vice president of policy, strategy, and international affairs at AARP, reviewed the challenges facing older adults: rising rates of long-term unemployment and a consequent decline in employer coverage, and difficulties gaining coverage in today’s individual insurance market, where many are excluded or charged very high premiums because of preexisting conditions. Rother closed the webinar by reviewing how the provisions of the Affordable Care Act, including many that go into effect in 2011, will improve access to affordable health insurance and curb out-of-pocket medical costs for older adults and Medicare beneficiaries.