With his signature Tuesday morning, President Barack Obama put in motion a complete overhaul of the American health insurance system, a move advocates say will bring greater access to those with disabilities.

The new law, which takes effect immediately, will require most Americans to have health insurance. Further it will prevent coverage providers from excluding those with pre-existing conditions, setting annual or lifetime limits or dropping people who get sick.

“We have now enshrined the basic principle that everybody should have some security when it comes to their health care,” Obama said just before signing the bill into law during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House.

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Reform will be phased in over the next four years. Beginning this year insurers won’t be able to drop those who get sick or deny coverage to children because of a pre-existing condition. Annual and lifetime limits will also be eliminated and young adults will be able to remain on their parents’ insurance plan until age 26.

Over time the new law calls for an expansion of Medicaid to include those earning up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level and it will mandate coverage of mental health care. Both rehabilitation and habilitation services as well as behavior therapy will also be covered.

Further, states will be able to get increased federal matching funds to support community living if they eliminate caps on the number of individuals who can live in the community.

“I think everyone in the disability community is thrilled because everything that we fought for was included,” said Liz Savage, director of health and housing policy at the Disability Policy Collaboration, a joint lobbying initiative of The Arc and United Cerebral Palsy.

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