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The Money Mom: Health Care Reform

iStock_000005623222XSmallI know that by now, you’ve read more than a few articles about the health care reform bill. But I also know you still have questions – for one of my blog posts on WalletPop.com, I recently talked to the folks at ehealthinsurance.com, and they told me that they’ve been flooded with calls from people who are just plain confused (many are asking for “free Obama care,” in fact). So I thought I’d take a few minutes and bring you up to speed about a few changes that are going to impact families with children.

For starters, you should know that nothing about this bill is immediate. It takes awhile to get the ball rolling with a huge piece of legislation like this, and it is certainly going to take some time for the insurance companies to get acclimated. But two big changes are going to come in September, and I want you to be prepared for them.

The first is that health insurance companies will no longer be permitted to decline coverage to children because of pre-existing conditions. That means if you’ve been struggling to find care for a child with asthma or other medical conditions – or you’ve been paying an arm and a leg for the coverage you have – you may want to shop around again come September. Believe it or not, buying individual coverage can sometimes be cheaper than group coverage, so it pays to do a little research. If you find a good children’s policy on the open market, you can keep yourself on your work’s plan – especially if your employer pays for a portion – and set up your children on the individual plan. You can shop and compare plans at ehealthinsurance.com.

The second big change when it comes to children is that they can now stay on their parent’s health insurance plan until age 26, regardless of whether or not they’re in school. Prior to this, states made the rules here, and often coverage was cut off at age 18 or 19. This could be a big money-saver, but no one should cancel their plan before the new coverage is in place. If you crunch the numbers and determine that it would be cheaper for your child to have coverage through you, rather than an individual plan, wait until they are safely on your plan, then cancel the old.

Finally, if you participate in your state’s Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which is for lower-income families, the reform included a provision that maintains that program at least until 2019. That means that even in extreme budget shortfalls, your state can’t cut your child’s coverage – certainly a sigh of relief.

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