Progressive Voices

The new federal health law: Working, effective, affordable

Almost two years ago, the new federal legislation that starts to fix our health system, the Affordable Care Act, was passed into law. Health care is such a large and complicated part of our economy that beginning the needed fixes has been almost like watching an oil tanker negotiate a three-point turn in a shipping channel. However, slowly and surely changes are happening for the better.

Just consider the positive results of the law that have already been realized. Already, children under the age of 19 cannot be denied health coverage because of a pre-existing health condition. And 2.5 million young adults under the age of 26 have been able to get insurance through their parent’s health plans – lessening a major burden on young adults looking for good jobs with health coverage in a tough economy. Seniors are getting free screenings and health visits through Medicare as well as substantial discounts on brand-name drug costs.

And people who haven’t been able to get insurance because of serious pre-existing health conditions are now able to buy coverage through North Carolina’s new federal high risk insurance pool, “Inclusive Health.”

In 2014, the changes really start to accelerate. With new tax credits for individuals and small business to purchase insurance, the Affordable Care Act will mean an average of about $2,640 in the pocketbooks for North Carolina families making less than $100,000 a year. This will result from reduced health premiums for those currently insured and new access to a new state health insurance exchange where families and businesses without insurance can shop for coverage at competitive rates. In addition, North Carolina’s Medicaid safety net will be expanded so that really poor people will qualify for Medicaid regardless of whether or not they have dependent children or their age.

And one way reform will be kept on track by the law is simple. Starting in 2014, members of Congress will be required to purchase their insurance through their own state’s health exchanges just like individuals and small businesses without current coverage! Right now, members of Congress buy their health coverage by selecting among plans that can’t deny or charge people more because of pre-existing health conditions. In 2014, those protections will be extended to everyone.

And the Affordable Care Act is indeed affordable. Controlling waste, fraud and abuse in health care saves money – already over $4 billion just in the last year. Limiting what insurance companies can spend on “administrative costs” instead of medical care saves money. Delivering our health care more efficiently and effectively saves money. Not depending on our overworked emergency rooms to deliver health care to people who could easily be seen in their family doctor’s office saves money. Every one of these improvements is a part of the Affordable Care Act.

These are just a few of the reasons Congress’s official scorekeeper – the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office – estimated that the Affordable Care Act will actually reduce the federal deficit over the next ten years.

The politics of the moment might call for rash statements that we need to “repeal” the health care law. But by now the effects of repeal are clear: Millions would lose coverage, seniors would pay more, small businesses would get less, and costs would go up for everyone. The Affordable Care Act may be slow, but it is on track and starting to make the changes we all need in a cautious, deliberate way. For those who are already benefiting and those who will benefit over the next few years, the law is just the medicine our health system needs.

Adam Searing is the Director of the North Carolina Health Access Coalition.