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White House reveals plan for free preventive care

WASHINGTON - From counseling for kids who struggle with their weight, to cancer screenings for their parents, preventive health care will soon be available at no out-of-pocket cost under consumer rules the Obama administration unveiled yesterday.

That means no copays, deductibles or coinsurance for people whose health insurance plans are covered by the new requirements.

The Obama administration estimates that 41 million Americans will benefit initially, with the number projected to rise to 88 million by 2013. Many large company plans, which usually offer solid preventive benefits, will be exempt from the requirements for the time being.

Better preventive coverage is one of the goals of President Barack Obama's health care overhaul law, part of a shift to try to catch problems early, before high cholesterol can lead to heart disease.

"Services like these will go a long way in preventing chronic illnesses that consume over 75 percent of the health care spending in this country," said first lady Michelle Obama, announcing the new benefits at a Washington hospital.

Better preventive care may be an investment, but it still carries an upfront cost. Premiums will go up by 1.5 percent on average, as spending for the services is spread broadly across an entire pool of insured people.

For individuals who are diligent about their checkups, that can mean considerable out-of-pocket savings. For example, a 58-year-old woman at risk of heart disease could save at least $300 on recommended tests, from diabetes and cholesterol screening, to a mammogram and a flu shot.

Research has shown that people tend to skip recommended preventive care if cost is an issue.

The prevention requirements take effect for health plans renewing on or after Sept. 23, which means most beneficiaries will see them starting Jan. 1.

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