Colorado Health Care Day of Action 2009

Essential Health Benefits and the Affordable Care Act

Family Voices (National logo)

This article reposted with permission from National Family Voices.

Affordable Care Act: Essential Health Benefits & Habilitative Services 

by Brooke Lehmann and Janis Guerney

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently issued a proposed regulation that, among other topics, addresses the “Essential Health Benefits” that must be included in certain health plans pursuant to the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  The proposed regulation raises serious concerns about the availability of “habilitative” services-therapies and devices that help individuals to acquire or maintain skills or function.

BACKGROUND: The ACA requires that a package of “Essential Health Benefits” (EHB) be covered in all health insurance plans sold in Exchanges and in all non-grandfathered individual and small group policies for plan years beginning in or after 2014.

ACA Essential Health Benefits List:

Girl receiving injection from female doctor
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
  • ambulatory patient services
  • emergency services
  • hospitalization
  • maternity and newborn care
  • mental health and substance use disorder services
  • prescription drugs
  • rehabilitative and habilitative services and devices
  • laboratory services
  • preventive/wellness services and chronic disease management
  • pediatric services, including oral and vision care

The Department has proposed that each state establish its own set of EHBs, based on a “benchmark” plan selected from one of four types of plans sold in that state (e.g., largest small group plan, largest HMO).  If a state fails to select a benchmark, then the default will be the largest small group plan in the state.  About half of the states have already identified their benchmark choices, which must be made by December 26.

HABILITATIVE BENEFITS:  With respect to habilitative services, the proposed rule is quite troublesome.  If the state’s benchmark plan does not include any habilitative services, the state would be able to define that benefit.  But HHS does not provide guidance about how states should do so.

If a state declines to define habilitative services, then insurance plans will determine the benefit.  Each plan must either provide habilitative services that provide parity with rehabilitative services, or establish its own set of habilitative benefits and report them to HHS.

If insurers get to define habilitative services without any parameters, each one will have an incentive to provide minimal benefits, so that its plan will not attract a disproportionate number of people who need costly habilitative services.

Family Voices and other groups will be submitting comments on the proposed regulation and we urge others to provide public comments on benefits that are important to CYSHCN.   Submit comments by 12/26 at
http://www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=CMS-2012-0142.
Contact the FV Policy Team with any questions:
Brooke Lehmann, MSW, Esq.: blehmann@familyvoices.org or 202-333-2770
Janis Guerney, Esq.: jguerney@familyvoices.org  or 202-546-0558

Learn more about Essential Health Benefits at this page.

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