By John Burbank
The promise of the Affordable Care Act has been a long time coming — but it’s finally here. Now that the initial health coverage sign-up period has ended, it’s a good time to take stock of actual impacts.
Over the past four years the Affordable Care Act has put real consumer protections in place in the health insurance market. Today, unlike just a few years ago, insurance companies are prohibited from:
denying insurance because of pre-existing medical conditions
cancelling insurance when a patient gets sick
imposing lifetime dollar limits on care
That’s not all. The ACA has also:
given low wage businesses a tax credit for employee health coverage of up to 50 percent of the cost of premiums
ensured free preventative care, such as mammograms and colonoscopies, without charging deductibles, co-pays or coinsurance
allowed children up to age 26 to stay on their parents’ health insurance coverage
provided drug discounts for seniors on Medicaid. (This provision will eventually result in closing the prescription drug “donut hole”.)
In the past six months the real jewel in the crown of the act has been realized: affordable care coverage, just as the name of the act promised. Thanks to this law, close to one million Washingtonians are gaining their health coverage through the Washington Health Benefit Exchange … that’s one out of every seven citizens.
The overwhelming majority of these citizens have been able to get coverage with premiums they can afford. For example, if you and your spouse are 58 years old, and your combined income is $60,000, you get coverage through the exchange for $475 a month for both of you. If you are 27 and working at a minimum wage job 30 hours a week, you get free coverage. If you work fulltime, you pay $70 a month for your coverage.
In Snohomish County, over 84,000 people have health coverage through the exchange. In some other counties, more than one-fifth of the entire population is covered. Most of these counties are in Eastern Washington, which makes you wonder why Congressmembers from these areas, like “Doc” Hastings (R-Pasco) and Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Colville), are so intent on badmouthing and ending the Affordable Care Act.
A large part of a Congressperson’s duties are to serve his or her constituents, helping to iron out problems with receiving federal benefits, like disability or Medicare. But these Congresspeople have forsaken that responsibility when it comes to the Affordable Care Act. Congresswoman McMorris Rodgers went so far as to take a constituent’s letter complaining about an insurance company’s offer for health coverage that increased her premiums by $500 and use it as a hammer to go after the Affordable Care Act. Would she have done the same thing if someone complained about having a hard time getting Medicare? No, McMorris Rodgers would have helped that person work through the system to get her benefits. If she had taken a similar approach with the Affordable Care Act, she could have helped this constituent get better health coverage at a lower cost than what she paid in premiums in 2013.
Over the past four years, the House of Representatives has taken vote after vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act. The House members in opposition, including McMorris Rodgers and Hastings, as well as Dave Reichert (R-Auburn), and Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Camas), seem most intent on denying health care coverage to their own constituents.
Last November Congresswomen McMorris Rodgers wrote, “The startlingly low Obamacare enrollment numbers released today only further reinforce the widespread failure of this law … It’s a broken law.”
Actually, the Affordable Care Act has withstood legal onslaughts and hyped-up rhetoric and disinformation. Now that close to one million Washington citizens are receiving their health coverage through the Affordable Care Act, perhaps the opponents will lay down their swords and help people get the health coverage that is their right. Maybe they will start to look forward, and forget about returning to the broken health care system of the past century.
John Burbank is the Executive Director of the Economic Opportunity Institute (www.eoionline.org). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org