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President Barack Obama's historic Affordable Care Act is bringing sweeping changes to your health care. Insurers can no longer deny you coverage due to pre-existing conditions. Preventive care and wellness screenings are now available at no additional cost. Lifetime dollar limits on health plans are a thing of the past. And beginning in 2014, new state health exchanges are supposed to make shopping for health insurance easier and more affordable than ever.

There's a lot at stake, not only for you but also for America's health insurance companies. They've had to reinvent themselves and re-price their products to meet the requirements of health care reform.

"It's an enormous change," says Tom Billet, senior consultant for the risk management firm Towers Watson.

As health insurance transforms itself, patients may feel a few side effects -- such as short-term price increases, name changes and some confusion during the transition.

Reform comes amid health care evolution

Health insurance was already evolving. Not long ago, it was a relatively sleepy industry that primarily designed group plans for employers to offer to their workers.

"The health care system was largely focused on acute care," adds Susan Pisano, a spokeswoman for America's Health Insurance Plans, an industry trade group."You broke your arm, went to the doctor and got it set."

Today, health care is largely focused on chronic disease, a more expensive proposition that has, in part, caused employer-sponsored health plans to decline. The percentage of Americans covered by health insurance at work has fallen from 64.4 percent in 1997 to 55.1 percent in 2011, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures. And insurance companies have decided they no longer want people to wait for a big, costly emergency before going to the doctor.

"We used to be very dismissive, as a health care system, of prevention and wellness, but at this point, we realize that those are now the fundamental tools we have in our arsenal," Pisano says.

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Posted 10:57 AM

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