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Consumer Assistance Grants Press Conference

Washington, DC
October 19, 2010

Good morning.

Today is a very important day for health care consumers across the country.

I’m glad to be joined by the terrific staff of our department’s Office of Insurance Oversight and Consumer Information, some of our tremendous state partners, leading consumer advocates from across the country, as well as some consumers to announce nearly $30 million in new Affordable Care Act grants that will give consumers more control over their health care.

For years, millions of Americans and small businesses were left to fend for themselves in our health insurance market. Insurance companies in most states could deny you coverage because you had a medical condition. Or put a lifetime limit on your benefits, so that your coverage might disappear when you needed it most.

They could raise your premiums by 30 or 40 percent with little explanation. Plan descriptions contained pages and pages of fine print, making it hard to choose the right plan for your family or employees. And when an insurance company rejected a claim for care your doctor recommended, people often felt like they had nowhere to go.

Health insurance is supposed to give you peace of mind. But for many consumers, it was often one worry after another: worrying about finding a plan, worrying about picking the right one, worrying about whether your plan would cover your care, and worrying about whether you could keep it.

One of the main goals of the Affordable Care Act was to give consumers more control over their insurance and care

So thanks to the new law, on September 23, a new Patient’s Bill of Rights began to take effect that will bring an end to many of the worst insurance company practices. Insurers will no longer be able to put lifetime limits on your benefits. Insurance companies will be prohibited from refusing to issue new coverage to children because they have a medical condition like asthma or diabetes. And all beneficiaries of new plans will have access to a new independent appeals process to make sure they are treated fairly, among other benefits.

Then starting in 2014, many consumers will be able to shop for insurance in a new consumer-friendly Exchange, where they’ll be able to easily compare and choose from a range of affordable plans that provide a basic level of benefits.

That’s a big improvement from the status quo. But in order for consumers to get the full benefits from these reforms, we need to make sure they know their rights and that these new protections are understood.

That’s what the grants we’re announcing today are all about. They’ll go to thirty-five states, four territories and the District of Columbia and their non-profit partners to support efforts to help consumers navigate the private insurance system. States will use the grants to help consumers file complaints and appeals, enroll in health coverage, and get educated about their new rights under the Affordable Care Act.

So for example, if you quit your job or get laid off and lose your employer-based health insurance, these grants will support programs to help you learn what your options are and figure out which plan is best for you. If your insurance claim gets rejected or you can’t figure out what treatments your plan covers, they’ll help make sure you have someone on your side to talk to.

Many states are already providing these critical services, but these offices are often understaffed and underfunded. These grants will give states the resources they need to respond faster and more effectively to consumer complaints and questions.

The grants will also allow us to gather system-wide data about what’s confusing to or frustrating for consumers, so we can put our resources where they’re needed.

The Affordable Care Act is already empowering consumers to take charge of their health care with tools like our incredible new website healthcare.gov. Healthcare.gov shines a spotlight on our health insurance market. With just a few clicks of the mouse, it lets you see all your health insurance options in one place for the first time ever. There’s pricing and benefit information too, so it’s easy to compare plans to find the one that’s right for you.

Giving consumers more control over their health care has been a long battle. We have consumer advocates with us today who have been working on these issues for decades, including two leaders with me on stage today: Ron Pollack the founder and Executive Director of Families USA and DeAnn Friedholm from the Consumer’s Union.

It’s also been a focus of my career. As an Insurance Commissioner, a Governor, and now Secretary of Health and Human Services, I’ve heard from countless Americans who felt powerless in our health insurance market. They often felt like they had too few choices, too little information, and no one to talk to if they were treated badly.

As we continue to implement this new law, we’re determined to create a transparent, competitive, and fair market that gives Americans better choices, more information, and real security. The grants we’re announcing today will help us do that.