Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Good News on Student Loan and Health Insurance Reform

President Obama signed legislation that will dramatically change the federal student loan program.

The new law will eliminate fees paid to private banks to act as intermediaries in providing loans to college students and use much of the nearly $68 billion in savings over 11 years to expand Pell grants and make it easier for students to repay outstanding loans after graduating. The law also invests $2 billion in community colleges over the next four years to provide education and career training programs to workers eligible for trade adjustment aid after dislocation in their industries.

The law will increase Pell grants along with inflation in the next few years, which should raise the maximum grant to $5,975 from $5,550 by 2017, according to the White House, and it will also provide 820,000 more grants by 2020.

Eliminating the middle man (the banks) means more help will be available, which will ease the financial burden of families who want to send their kids to college. It also means that repayment terms are a little kinder:

Students who borrow money starting in July 2014 will be allowed to cap repayments at 10 percent of income above a basic living allowance, instead of 15 percent. Moreover, if they keep up payments, their balances will be forgiven after 20 years instead of 25 years — or after 10 years if they are in public service, like teaching, nursing or serving in the military.

A disability rights activist sent me a link to Disability Scoop:

When health insurance reform was signed into law just last week, Democratic lawmakers said that coverage of children with pre-existing conditions would be one of the most immediate effects. But within days, insurers argued a detailed reading of the new legislation allowed them to continue cutting-off kids with conditions like Down syndrome and cerebral palsy in certain circumstances until 2014.

The good news is - that insurance companies quickly thought the better of that. From The NY Times (same day):

“Health plans recognize the significant hardship that a family faces when they are unable to obtain coverage for a child with a pre-existing condition,” said Karen M. Ignagni, president of America’s Health Insurance Plans, a trade group. Accordingly, she said, “we await and will fully comply with” the rules.

Ms. Ignagni made the commitment in a letter to Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, who had said she feared that some insurers might exploit a possible ambiguity in the new health care law to deny coverage to some sick children.

Apparently it didn't take any time at all for the insurance companies to realize that refusing to cover kids with Down Syndrome wasn't a good PR move.

cross posted at Main St/

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