(New York, NY) A group of patient advocates will be making their voices heard to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) at a listening session today in Manhattan. For the first time since the implementation of health care reform, the public has the opportunity to discuss “Essential Benefits” that will be required in the state exchange plans. This will effectively be the minimum standard of benefits for millions of Americans shaping the future of healthcare coverage to be offered across the U.S.

The listening tours are designed to hear recommendations for the “Essential Benefits” to be offered in state healthcare exchanges. These core health services will be a requirement in plans sold through state exchanges as defined in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act requires the Secretary of HHS to define and establish the parameters of Essential Benefits for state exchanges that will define covered treatments, items, and services. Congress specified that the benefits be equal in scope to that of a “typical” employer plan. Patient groups are working to ensure that benefits are adequate, do not discriminate against disease types, meet the needs of diverse communities, and provide access to care especially for middle and low-income families.

This is a critical phase for patient advocates who are dedicated to making sure that patients of all types have proper access to care. The way in which the minimum standard of benefits is designed will directly impact the future of patient access to quality health care – and the health of all Americans.

Patient groups from across the tri-state area will be participating in this meeting, including US Pain Foundation, NY Hemophilia Chapter, Village Care, National Association for People with AIDS, Global Healthy Living Foundation, Latino Commission on AIDS and NYS Osteopathic Medical Society.

“It is critical that patients have access to the medications their doctors prescribe”, said US Pain Foundation President Paul Gileno. “It is of utmost importance that HHS understands the implications of adding barriers to care.”

“People with chronic conditions often need access to highly specialized care. It’s important that every affected individual be covered for this care without having to jump unreasonable hurdles.” Said Glenn Mones, Executive Director of the NY Hemophilia Chapter.

“This could be our only chance to guarantee fair, affordable and comprehensive access to care for America. We need to act now to make sure that Essential Benefits are not only clearly defined but that they are understood to be minimum benefits not maximum coverage, especially for people with chronic disease,” added Alexey Salamakha, National Program Manager for the Global Healthy Living Foundation.

“Perhaps one of the most essential health benefits is a positive physician-patient relationship. No insurance plan should be given the power to destroy that relationship by dictating a patient’s treatment and medication options” said New York State Medical Society Executive Director, Barbara Greenwald. “HHS has got to ensure the autonomy of the physician, who is trained to make those decisions.”