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Key health care reform provisions go into effect Posted: January 4th, 2011

By Maryalene LaPonsie

The landmark Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act makes significant changes to the United States health care system. While the first reforms were rolled out in 2010, a second wave of changes recently went into effect.

As of Jan. 1, the following components of the health reform law were enacted:

Medicare prescription drug discounts: Seniors purchasing prescriptions in the Medicare Part D prescription drug 'donut hole' will receive a 50 percent discount on certain brand name drugs.

Medical loss ratios: Health insurance companies are required to spend 80 percent to 85 percent of premium payments on direct health care costs. However, more than 200 companies operating 'mini-med' health plans have received waivers for this provision.

Free preventive services for seniors: Original Medicare and Medicare Advantage plans are prohibited from charging deductibles or co-payments on certain preventive care services such as cancer screenings.

Flexible Spending Account changes: The new law prohibits individuals from receiving reimbursement from their Flexible Spending Account for over-the-counter medications unless prescribed by a doctor.

Medicare reimbursement bonuses: Physicians providing primary care services and surgeons working in areas designated as having a health professional shortage will receive a 10 percent Medicare bonus payment.

Wellness program grants: Small businesses offering employee wellness programs may be eligible for grants to offset program costs.