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How healthcare changes will impact you in 2011

Posted Jan 03 2011 11:41am

Monday, January 3rd, 2011

By Kester Freeman
Former CEO, Palmetto Health

With the arrival of 2011, you can expect various changes when it comes to flexible spending accounts, Medicare premiums and other health related costs. Kaiser Health News has offered up a comprehensive list of some of these changes and you can view that list here .

Some of the more important changes to be aware of include:

Changes to medical savings accounts: If you have a (FSA), in which pre-tax income can be used for medical purchases, you can no longer spend the money on over-the-counter drugs, including medication for fever, allergies and acne, unless they have a doctor's prescription. The new restrictions , which lawmakers included in the healthcare overhaul to raise more revenue, also apply to health reimbursement arrangements and health savings accounts. Starting this year, those with health savings accounts who spend money inappropriately will not only owe taxes on it, but also could face a tax penalty of 20 percent.

Medicare premiums will increase: Medicare premiums in 2011 will cost more for wealthier beneficiaries. Since 2007, this group has paid more than the standard premium for Part B, which covers physician and outpatient services. But the income threshold was indexed to prevent inflation from moving more people into the affected group. New regulations will hold the threshold at the current level - incomes of $85,000 or above for individuals and $170,000 for couples.

Rx costs for seniors may decrease: Prescription drug costs could decrease $700 for a typical Medicare beneficiary in 2011, as the law begins to close the doughnut hole – the gap in prescription coverage when millions of seniors must pay full price at the pharmacy. The National Council on Aging estimates the savings could reach $1,800 for some seniors. Beginning this month, drug companies will give some seniors 50 percent off brand named drugs once they enter the doughnut hole. Generics will also be cheaper.

Calories listed at restaurants: The Food and Drug Administration is finalizing rules that will inform customers about calories at restaurants and fast food chains. Restaurants with 20 or more locations, and owners of 20 or more vending machines, will be required to display calorie information on menus, menu boards and drive-thru signs. Restaurants must also provide customers with detailed nutritional information. Experts say this will provide clarity when it comes to the nutritional value of what we choose to eat while dining out.

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