Health care reform: three years later

The Affordable Care Act has been a success and will continue to benefit society.

Ronald Dixon

The Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, just celebrated its three-year anniversary last Saturday. Despite the grand opposition that was palpable during the health care debates that rocked Washington, as well as current opposition from some politicians in Congress that want to defund the ACA as part of a budgetary deal, we find that the law has benefited millions of Americans. Moreover, portions of the law that have yet to take effect will add to the benefits already enjoyed from the law. Finally, when looking at the recent signing of the Minnesota insurance exchange, we can see how the ACA has had a great influence in our own state.

The benefits from the historic law are far too long to enumerate in this column, but I can note a few key successes. As Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius notes in a March 22 column, millions of Americans have access to insurance that they would not have been able to obtain without the law, millions more obtain care for less money, and the ACA incurs billions of total savings. These include the 71 million Americans that can obtain preventative care without additional costs, $716 billion in Medicare waste that was removed and reallocated back into the ACA, extending the life of Medicare by eight years, and the saving of $6.1 billion on prescription drugs. Children not being able to face discrimination based upon having pre-existing conditions, as well as children being able to keep their parents’ plan until age 26, is another noteworthy benefit that is derived from the relatively new law.

When we look into the future, we find that there are other measures within the ACA that have yet to be implemented. Perhaps the most controversial one, which was approved by the Supreme Court last summer, is the “insurance mandate,” the rule that installs a fee unto those that do not have insurance by 2014. There are several misconceptions about this rule, however. Contrary to the evident fear-mongering, the mandate will only have an impact on approximately 25 million Americans who lack insurance. Moreover, those who are up to 133 percent above the poverty line — about $30,000 per year for a family of four — would have their insurance paid by the government through an expansion of Medicaid (unless they live in a state such as Texas that used the Supreme Court’s health care ruling to block an expansion). For families that make 133 percent to 400 percent over the poverty line, up to $92,000 for a family of four, the government will provide subsidies to weather the burden of insurance costs.

The last significant portion of the ACA is the creation of state-wide insurance exchanges, where the residents of each state will be able to conveniently shop around new insurance exchanges to find the best deals. The states are given the freedom to implement their own exchange, but the federal government will intervene if they refuse.

An example of a new state insurance exchange was recently signed by Gov. Mark Dayton. The program has been named MNsure and is expected to cover 1.3 million Minnesotans, including 300,000 without insurance. One can compare insurance plans in-person, over-the-phone or through the Internet, and it will enable shoppers to pick the best deal.

The ACA is here to stay, and it has had and will continue to have great societal benefits.