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$122.3 mil in grants to California health centers

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services today announced almost $122.3 million in grants awarded to California community health centers – including about $24.9 million in the greater Bay Area – under the Affordable Care Act health care reform law.

Grantees estimate these awards will help them serve approximately 166,504 new patients. But it’s also a potent crowd-pleaser in a presidential campaign year.

“President Obama’s health care law is making community health centers in California stronger,” HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a news release. “For many Americans, community health centers are the major source of care that ranges from prevention to treatment of chronic diseases. This investment will expand our ability to provide high-quality care to millions of people while supporting good paying jobs in communities across the country.”

Funding totaling more than $728 million across the nation will support renovation and construction projects, boosting health centers’ patient capacity and creating jobs. The Affordable Care Act provides $9.5 billion to expand services over five years and $1.5 billion to support major construction and renovation projects at community health centers. A new report released today shows the law already has supported construction or renovation of 190 health center sites and creation of 67 new sites across the nation. Employment at community health centers nationwide has increased by 15 percent since the start of 2009, and such centers now serve almost three million more patients.

The grants announced today are from two capital programs: One will provide about $629 million to 171 existing health centers across the country for longer-term projects to expand their facilities, improve existing services, and serve more patients. The other will provide about $99.3 million to 227 existing health centers to address pressing facility and equipment needs.

For a list of the California recipients, read after the jump:
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Dave Jones helps HHS tout healthcare reform

California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones joined U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius this morning on a teleconference to roll out a new HHS report showing how much families and businesses can save on health insurance premiums and out-of-pocket costs under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the health care reforms signed into law last year.

The report says that with the creation by 2014 of state health exchanges, marketplaces where individuals without coverage through their employers can shop for insurance at competitive rates:

  • Middle-class families purchasing private insurance in the new State-based Health Insurance Exchanges could save as much as $2,300 per year in 2014.
  • Tax credits provided by the Affordable Care Act will lead to even greater savings. For example, in 2014, a family of four with an income of $33,525 could save as much as $14,900 per year since they will also qualify for tax credits and reduced cost sharing.
  • In 2014, small businesses, on average, could save up to $350 per family policy and many may be eligible for tax credits of up to 50 percent of their premiums.
  • The tax credits are already available to small businesses, and cover 35 percent of their premiums. For example, a firm with 10 workers who earn an average of $20,000 annually could currently receive credits of $35,000 annually. These tax credits could save small businesses $6 billion in 2010 and 2011.
  • All businesses will likely see lower premiums of $2,000 per family by 2019, which could generate millions of dollars in savings.
  • “If we repeal the law as some in congress have proposed, families and small business owners will pay the price,” Sebelius told reporters on the conference call, saying the nation mustn’t return to the days when rising costs put heavier burdens on family budgets and business balance sheets.

    Sebelius said some insurers are already reporting increased enrollment as they inform their small business clients of the tax credits made available under the new law.

    Dave JonesJones said the report underscores the importance of moving forward with implementing the Affordable Care Act, which he called “one of the most significant legislative accomplishments of the last 50 years.” He noted that California is the first state to pass legislation under the Act to establish its health care exchange.

    Jones also noted the new law requires that children with pre-existing conditions no longer can be denied coverage; he noted that California parents with uninsured children should enroll them before March 1 to take advantage of a lower open-enrollment rate.

    Jones earlier this week had announced that the state Office of Administrative Law approved his request for an emergency regulation giving him authority to enforce the 80 percent Medical Loss Ratio in the individual market established under the Affordable Care Act – meaning California’s individual insurers must now spend at least 80 percent of their premium revenues on medical services rather than profits, marketing and overhead.

    UPDATED @ 12:59 P.M.: U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, the ranking member on the Senate Finance Committee, said this:

    “This report is as deeply flawed as the $2.6 trillion health law that the American people continue to oppose. The facts from the government’s own budget experts are clear. According to the Administration’s actuary, health care costs for the nation will rise faster under this new law, despite the White House’s claim. Every American remembers President Obama’s pledge to reduce health costs by $2,500 for families, but the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office has found the President’s health care law will increase premiums by $2,100 for families purchasing coverage on their own. House Republicans have listened to the people and acted to repeal this disastrous, budget-busting health law. Now it’s time for the Senate to act as well.”

    But, from Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, the ranking member on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce:

    “Today’s report confirms that the increased competition and consumer protections in the reform law will lower health insurance premiums for millions of American families and businesses. At a time when budgets are already stretched thin by rising costs, this is one more example of how families and businesses are benefiting from the health care law and can ill afford the reckless Republican effort to repeal it.”

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    CalPERS praises health care reform’s effects

    California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS) CEO Anne Stausboll wrote today to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius thank her for the department’s swift implementation of health care reform, which she said has helped the pension fund’s enrollees in several ways already.

    CalPERS is the nation’s largest non-federal purchaser of health benefits in the country, and Stausboll wrote in her letter that – thanks to the health care reforms signed into law earlier this year – more than 27,000 young adults were added to their parents’ health plans effective next month, resulting in a premium increase of less than 1 percent. CalPERS also removed lifetime limits from all plans that previously had included them, she wrote.

    And Stausboll wrote that CalPERS joined a program that aids early retiree health plans to keep premium costs down; this program helped hold premiums to their lowest increase in 14 years, and CalPERS estimates savings of about $200 million for more than 115,000 early retirees and their families.

    All this is music to the ears of Congressional Democrats.

    “Already, tens of thousands of families across California – and millions of Americans – are seeing the concrete benefits of health reform,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, said in a news release. “The Patient’s Bill of Rights in health reform is now protecting Americans from the worst abuses of the insurance industry, such as lifetime limits, and CalPERS is showing us the real, human impact of these and other reform provisions.”

    House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee Chairman Pete Stark, D-Fremont, said the letter proves the reforms already are paying dividends just months after becoming law. “Republicans have pledged to repeal the health reform law and undo these consumer protections,” he said. “This is a dangerous prospect for nearly 1.3 million Californians in CalPERS who would be hurt.”

    House Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller, D-Martinez, agreed. “Repealing these historic reforms, as Washington Republicans have pledged to do, will take away basic health benefits that Californians count on and take hard-earned money right out of their pockets. Californians, and all Americans, simply cannot afford the radical Republican repeal agenda.”

    Sebelius blogged about the letter, writing that “we’re seeing similar signs of progress across the country … And in the months to come, we look forward to working with CalPERS and employers across the country to implement this new law and make sure all Americans can get the care they need.”

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    HHS offers California health reform talking points

    The story I wrote earlier this week about Rep. Barbara Lee’s health-care reform discussion forum Monday in Oakland brought a lot of varied responses from readers. For example, here are two e-mails I received within a few minutes of each other yesterday:

    Thank you for a great article. The only solution to the Healthcare problem is a single payer plan. It cannot and should not be dismissed. The naysayer Republicans have no alternative plan to get the 47 million plus people healthcare coverage. The question should be how do we get healthcare for all rather than how do we get healthcare for all without hurting the profit of the Insurance Industry.

    Now is the time for real change. They should never have been allowed to take single payer plan off the table. Many feel that we will be lucky if we get a public plan but that should not even be a question.

    And…

    Can you send me some of the kool aide these people must be drinking?

    Everyone quotes the number of people without health care at 46million, but the report this comes from states that it is more likely in the area of 38 million, looking at the actual number of people without heath care at any one point in time. If you consider non-Americans, you can take out another 20%. And if you consider the number of people earning over $75k a year and who just don’t want to be bothered, you actally end up with a really small number of people lacking insurance.

    Anyway, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius this morning released a series of state-by-state reports on the health care status quo in order to highlight the need for health reform.

    “In states across the country, health care costs are going up and families are struggling to get the quality care they need and deserve,” Sebelius said in her news release. “We cannot wait to pass reform that protects what works about health care and fixes what’s broken.”

    “The American people have been calling for reform, and they should not have to wait any longer. Health reform will assure quality affordable health care for all Americans, lower costs, and give more Americans the choices they deserve. The time for reform is now.”

    Read the report on California, after the jump…
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