January 6, 2011

What's New in 2011 Healthcare Reform for Scotland County Residents?

When it comes to New Year's resolutions, there's little doubt that the most popular choices involve health. Typically people are left to their own devices to turn these resolutions for a healthier year into reality, but in 2011 the Affordable Care Act might be able to assist. While not everyone in Scotland County will choose the same resolutions, all will experience the reforms in health care that will go in effect starting on January 1.

The Affordable Care Act that was signed into law last March includes numerous changes to the way healthcare works in the United States. However, most of the changes did not go into effect immediately. Instead, these modifications are being implemented over the course of the next decade and will gradually improve the ways Americans stay healthy, and how they receive care when they're not. While not everyone agrees with all of the new ideas, the fact is that from infants to seniors, everyone is a beneficiary.

Some changes in 2011 will be very apparent. Vending machines and chain restaurants will begin to display the nutritional information of their standard menu items, making it easier for customers to make their own, informed decisions. This reflects a new outlook in healthcare - one that, in addition to providing treatment for sick patients, promotes preventive care and living a healthy lifestyle.

"People need to take more responsibility for what they eat," says Dr. Karen Edison, director of the Center for Health Policy in Columbia. "If you can do one thing per day, eat five to ten servings of fruits and veggies." Currently, only 24 percent of Missourians eat at least five.

Seniors on Medicare will benefit from a 50 percent discount on covered brand-name prescription drugs when they reach the coverage gap, or "donut-hole." Previously, seniors were expected to cover 100 percent of costs, which was something not all seniors could afford.

In addition, Missouri seniors will have wider access to the healthcare services that can help identify health issues before they become serious. Beginning this year, seniors will have free access to additional preventive services, such as annual wellness visits and colorectal scans. Some preventive care measures, such as recommended immunizations, became more widely available in 2010.

Other changes in 2011 will be less obvious but felt nonetheless. Healthcare providers across the country will begin pilot programs to develop better, more efficient ways to improve health using existing resources and technology. These changes include projects - such as the widespread implementation of electronic medical records - that develop new ways to avoid unnecessary care, and determine more effective and efficient ways to pay for and manage health care services. As new and better methods of providing health are discovered, they will be shared with and implemented by other healthcare professionals, making healthcare more responsive to the needs of the average citizen.

Although some Scotland County residents may have reservations about a few of the particular changes in healthcare, the changes all aim to help control costs and improve everyone's opportunity to live a long, healthy life.

Dr. Edison acknowledges the questions that some have. "There are fears: Fears that costs won't be controlled adequately; fears that the government will overreach; fears that politics will win," she says. "But health reform didn't happen because someone just thought of it. We've been working at this for decades. This is a first step, not the be all and end all."

The Center for Health Policy and Health Literacy Missouri suggest that people:

Get educated because your health and healthcare belong to you. Learning more about the changes in healthcare allows you to take control and make informed decisions about the care you and your family receive. Visit healthcare.gov to learn more.

If you currently don't have insurance - and 23.1 percent of Scotland County adults don't - there may be new opportunities for you to discover your options. To learn more about insurance options contact the Missouri Department of Insurance at insurance.mo.gov.

Take charge of your own health. In Scotland County, 30.7 percent of adults are obese and twenty-five percent of Missourians smoke. Both of these behaviors can increase a person's risk for many serious but preventable medical conditions such as heart disease and stroke. Living a healthy lifestyle should be the first step in everyone's personal health care plan.

For more information about healthcare reform, visit healthpolicy.missouri.edu.

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