On March 23, 2010, Obamacare — formally known as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act — was signed into law by President Obama.
Three years later, the bulk of the first serious attempt at near-universal health care in the history of the United States has not yet taken effect. Health marketplaces are still being formed, states are still deciding if they’ll take Medicaid expansion and the subsidies that will help tens of millions of Americans afford health care won’t roll out until January 1, 2014.
Implementing Obamacare won’t be easy, as even some of the biggest fans of the program admit. Expanding Medicare to cover all Americans would have to be an even simpler solution but a complete political impossibility — given that Joe Lieberman (I-CT), whose vote was necessary to pass the law, single-handedly vetoed a provision that would allow 55- to 64-year-olds to buy into the single-payer insurance plan that covers all seniors. It’s a compromise solution that uses unpopular provisions — like the individual mandate — to achieve extremely popular results — ending lifetime limits and banning insurance companies from dropping patients once they become sick.
There will be plenty of time to debate the efficacy of Obamacare — especially with insurance companies enjoying record profits threatening to raise rates in order to justify changes to the law.
But right now we should celebrate the greatest victory for the middle class since Medicare and Medicaid. At its heart, Obamacare is a program that asks the rich and corporations to pay a little more to help working Americans get insurance they can count on, thus lowering the cost of health care for everyone. We already pay for each other’s health coverage, but just in the dumbest possible way — emergency rooms. And the law will certainly help save thousands of the more than 26,000 Americans who die every year for lack of insurance.
Here are five reasons to be grateful for Obamacare, which is already making life better for the middle class.
Obamacare Frees Workers And Entrepreneurs
One of the most popular aspects of Obamacare is that beginning in 2014, insurance companies will no longer be able to deny people coverage because of pre-existing conditions. Because insurance companies had been able to do this, many people avoided going to the doctor for fear of being diagnosed with a disease or condition that would brand them for the rest of their lives. Some stayed in jobs they didn’t want and others didn’t take the leap to start a new business for fear of not being able to get coverage. These changes especially free women — who by federal law can no longer be charged more for care because of their gender — to pursue new opportunities.
Photo: Toms Bauģis
Insurance Companies Pay You Back
Insurance companies are required for the first time to prove that they’re spending between 80 and 85 percent of premiums, depending on the size of the company, on actual health care. If companies don’t spend that amount on coverage, they have return that money to their customers — $1.2 billion was returned in 2012 to self-employed Americans whose insurers didn’t hit the proper ratio.
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Millions Of Young People Already Covered
An estimated six million college students are already taking advantage of Obamacare’s provision that lets them stay on their parents’ insurance until the age of 26. This has led to a record drop in uninsured young people, allowing them to go back to school or pursue graduate degrees without taking on as much student loan debt.
Photo: Rennett Stowe via Flickr.com
Seniors Spend Less On Drugs
One of the most immediate benefits of Obamacare was the closing of the Medicare D prescription drug “donut hole,” which requires seniors to pay for the coverage gap between their deductible and yearly limit, at which point the plan covers all medication — $6.1 billion in drug coverage has already been distributed to seniors, which leads to the irony that Republicans ran and won in 2010 on saying that Obamacare cuts Medicare when, in fact, benefits for seniors have only increased. All the savings come from reforming the way providers are paid.
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The Red States Get To Pay The Blue States Back
When the Supreme Court ruled that the mandate in Obamacare was Constitutional, it also gave states the chance to opt out of the Medicaid expansion that will provide free public health care for those not already on Medicaid, but who earn up to 133 percent of the poverty level. The states that are turning down the expansion, unfortunately, are some of those that need it the most. All of the states that have rejected the federal extra funding — which begins at 100 percent of the cost of the expansion and goes down to 90 percent — are states that generally vote Republican.
You probably know that most red states take in more federal money than they contribute, as Republican policies encourage growth of programs like food stamps. Though Republican governors can reject the benefits of Medicaid expansion, their richest citizens and corporations will still have to pay the taxes. As a result, they won’t be such “takers.”
Unfortunately, the working poor of red states — who earn too much to be on basic Medicaid — will suffer without the health insurance they need. Those on Medicare and Medicaid will likely see fewer doctors who want to accept clients from these programs, as Medicaid expansion was supposed to make up for the cut in reimbursement rates that begins in 2014. And all residents will not enjoy the slowdown in the growth of health care costs that will come from shrinking the number of the uninsured.
For red state governors, it’s a chance to fulfill the prophecies of doom Republicans made when Obamacare passed. But for residents of blue states, it’s a chance to make America’s health care system more equitable, with red states finally paying closer to their fair share.
Photo: The Advisory Board Company