The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, signed into law by President Obama on March 23, 2010, is a milestone for a century-old U.S. health care reform movement that goes all the way back to President Teddy Roosevelt's support for progressive health care reform. It is already making a difference in the lives of millions of Americans, even though many of its key provisions will not take full effect until as late as 2014.
Despite this, Republicans are already running on a pledge to repeal the hope and help that is already reaching these Americans, and replace it with policies that we know will fail to make health care more accessible and affordable for ordinary Americans.
Under health care reform, children are no longer denied health insurance coverage due to pre-existing conditions, young adults can stay on their parent’s insurance plans until they are 26 if they need to, and businesses with fewer than 25 people can deduct up to 35 percent of their premium payments, making coverage for their employees more affordable.
But this is just the start. By 2014, insurance companies will be banned from excluding you because of a prior medical condition. They will be prohibited from putting a cap on annual benefits, so they can’t cut you off if you get sick. Seniors on Medicare will no longer face huge out of pocket costs for prescription drugs – the so-called “doughnut hole” gap will be closed.
These reforms are but a first step toward what is needed to insure affordable health care to all Americans—but they are a necessary first step. We’ll still face hard battles to curb insurance company abuses and to control costs. But we have no choice. Affordable, high-quality health care should be a right, not a privilege in this society. And curbing the rise of health care costs is essential to our economy. Soaring health care costs will bankrupt everyone—families, businesses, state and national governments—if they are not brought under control. It is simply outrageous that those who want to repeal the law also oppose the basic measures built into the bill that begin to get health care costs under control.
The current reforms are less than hoped because conservatives joined with the insurance and drug companies to obstruct bolder reform. Now they are gearing up to roll back what we’ve gained. By demonizing “Obamacare,” they have been able to collect millions in contributions from those same corporate interests – the very companies that are collecting record profits while driving up costs for all Americans. We can’t allow them to stop the change we need.
The Republican Party’s "Pledge to America" promises to replace health care reform with a plan that simply doesn’t add up. It calls for selling insurance across state lines – even while opposing national standards. The result would be a race to the bottom, as insurance companies move to states like Mississippi that allow them to run roughshod over patients. We need health care decisions to be made between a doctor and a patient – not by an insurance bureaucrat located in a distant state looking to cut costs.
Americans across the political spectrum consistently support health care reform when they are told the facts about how they will benefit. A key battleground now is in the state and federal regulatory agencies, where, for example, insurance companies are battling over rules that require them to spend a specified percentage of premium dollars on health care rather than executive perks or slick advertising. Americans need to elect legislators who commit to robust oversight of the reforms it passed and are prepared to push harder for more reform. The last thing we should do is follow the insurance company playbook and roll back the first steps to insure affordable coverage.
Among the benefits from the Affordable Care Act that have already taken effect:
- Insurance companies may no longer use simple mistakes and typos to deny or cancel coverage if a person becomes ill.
- Now more Americans can actually choose their own or their children’s doctor rather than have the insurance company choose for them.
- Senior caught in the Medicare "Donut Hole" — where "Part D" beneficiaries pay all of their own prescription costs — will receive a one-time rebate check from Medicare this year – and the hole will be eliminated over time.
- Insurance companies are required to allow parents to put their children up to the age of 26 on their family plan.
In the future:
- Tax credits will help small businesses cover employees.
- Medicare will cover the full costs of annual wellness visits and personalized prevention plan services. State health insurance exchanges will offer more affordable care options for small businesses and individuals.
- For people with incomes up to $36,000, health care tax credits will become available to help them purchase coverage on the exchange.
- By 2019, health care reform will extend coverage to 32 million Americans who would not otherwise be insured.
- 49 percent of respondents in a September 2010 Kaiser Health Tracking Poll had a favorable view of health care reform, compared to 40 percent unfavorable—even as a right-wing disinformation campaign leaves voters confused and misinformed about what health care reform actually does. (The same poll found that three of 10 seniors believed incorrectly that the new reform law “allow(s) a government panel to make decisions about end‐of‐life care for people on Medicare.”)
- Americans who think health care reform should go further outnumber opponents 3 to 1. A September 2010 AP poll found that 75% of American still want substantial change in the country's health care system, while only 25% believe little needs to be done.
- 61% of Americans opposed repealing health care reform, while just 37% supported repeal, in a July 2010 Bloomberg news poll.
- Much of the dissatisfaction registered in the polls with health care reform comes from voters who don’t think the reforms went far enough. For example, 26 percent of participants in a September CNN/Opinion Dynamics poll said they wanted to “increase government’s involvement” in health care, while 23 percent wanted Congress to “leave the bill as it is.” The Kaiser Health Tracking Poll in September found that about a third of the people who had an unfavorable view of health care reform said the bill should be given a chance to work, “with Congress making necessary changes along the way.”