Some measures have been in effect for nearly two years and escaped cancellation when the Supreme Court preserved the law. Others are on the way. Just last week, the controversial regulations on free contraceptives and other preventive care for women took effect.
A large portion of health-care costs are attributable to preventable disease. Federal statistics show, for example, that more than one-third of American adults are obese — a condition that carries all manner of health risks, such as Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure. The health-care law tilts heavily toward preventive services and developing new prevention policies.
“When you remove cost barriers, people are much more likely to use services, and that’s been demonstrated for many, many years,” said Karen Pollitz, a senior fellow at the Kaiser Family Foundation who specializes in health-care reform and private insurance.
The benefits kick in when your health insurance plan changes or is updated. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, 54 million people have received free services under the law that previously would have cost them at least a co-payment.
Most people will feel the greatest tangible impact of the new law where they work. That only makes sense. It’s where most of us get our health insurance, and employers increasingly have been turning to wellness programs to cut costs anyway.
A 2010 study by Harvard University researchers, published in the journal Health Affairs, concluded that “medical costs fall by about $3.27 for every dollar spent on wellness programs and that absenteeism costs fall by about $2.73 for every dollar spent.” It remains difficult, however, to pinpoint which wellness programs produce the greatest bang for employers’ buck.
Beginning in 2014, the health-care law will allow employers to increase incentives for participation in programs that require an employee to achieve an agreed-upon wellness goal, such as giving up tobacco or losing a certain amount of weight. The incentive can be as much as 30 percent of an employee’s insurance costs, and in some cases as much as 50 percent. That is up from 20 percent allowed by law now.
Employers also may continue to offer help that is not tied to outcome, such as subsidized gym memberships, health assessments and nutrition counseling, without limits on incentives.