When I think back to the debate that surrounded healthcare reform in 2011 it’s hard to believe that it ever got passed. There was so much misinformation and flat out lies being peddled by its opponents that even for someone who was paying close attention to the debate, like myself, it was hard to determine what was legitimate and what was not in the discussion.
Five years later, and with plenty of data to analyze, it is pretty clear that the majority of the fear mongering claims never came to fruition. It is also clear that the ACA has had a huge impact on the lives of those it has covered and that our country is better off because of President Obama’s tireless and dogged worth ethic in getting it passed.
The final vote came the year before an election and yet President Obama and a majority of members in Congress took the political risk needed to advance and pass an essential piece of legislation that immediately improved the quality of life for millions of Americans. Due to the vitriolic debate that surrounded the law, its passing was highly unpopular with the American populace and would ultimately cause many brave members of Congress who voted for the bill to be voted out of office just a year later.
Yet the reasons why the bill was unpopular, and why those members lost their seats in Congress, have almost universally not played out in the years since it passed. Opponents said it would: kill jobs (wrong); force employers to cut wages and decrease the number of full time workers they employed (wrong); make healthcare costs skyrocket (wrong); enact federal death panels enacted to decide who lived and didn’t (ridiculous and wrong). Here’s what has actually happened…
Though the negative impressions of the bill persist today, the benefits have been overwhelmingly positive. In 2011 when President Obama signed into law the for Affordable Care Act (ACA, Obamacare), his signature piece of healthcare reform legislation, the percentage of Americans who lacked health insurance was 17.4%. This number has been more than halved, reaching a low of 8.6% in the first quarter of 2016. That number marks the lowest percentage of uninsured Americans in more than 50 years. In real numbers, as of January 2016, 16.5 million more people had health insurance than when President Obama took office.
In the five years before Obamacare went into effect, the average cost of healthcare increased by 3.6% per year. In the five years since Obamacare went into effect, the average cost of healthcare has increased at only 2.9% per year. This means that since the law went into effect, the average increase per year has actually decreased by .7%.
This fact stands in stark contrast to the picture that opponents of the law and Donald Trump present to the American public. Even with the larger premium increases expected next year, the average cost of a healthcare plan will be lower than it was forecast to be when Obamacare went into law. Not to mention, a large amount of those increases for those covered by Obamacare plans will be offset by corresponding subsidies that will keep the actual effect of the increases muted for most American families.
That’s not to say that Obamacare is without issues. Namely a lack of enough healthy individuals buying plans to help offset the costs of the higher risk insured has caused those who are paying to carry a larger, more expensive share than what analysts had figured. There’s also the issue of a profit-motivated insurance industry that has chased number crunching insurers to leave the markets in fears of decreased profits and too high of costs.
Though these are real and legitimate issues, there are a number of ways that the ACA can and will be improved in the months and years to come should Hillary Clinton be elected. Solutions may be up for debate, but no one can question the substantial impact it has had on the number of people insured. What can also not be questioned is the improved quality of the lives of the people it has covered.
Having the ability to seek out and receive healthcare should be a fundamental right in a country as prosperous as our own. Obamacare has moved us a lot closer to having universal healthcare coverage for our citizens than ever before. So for someone to say it has been an abject failure, or that it should be repealed without having some sort of legitimate and working solution to replace it, is unreasonable. No one should even so much as suggest that any of those 16.5 million newly insured could be at risk of losing their health insurance because of some politicians playing politics.
I am sure that all of the 16.5 million people who are now covered by the expansions in health insurance afforded by Obamacare have a story to tell about what life was like before they had insurance. However, I would like to end this section on a very personal note and discuss just one of those 16.5 million newly insured, that person being my mother.
The debate over Obamacare was always of much interest to me, and I was always for the passing of the law, but I never knew how close to home its impact would hit until earlier this year when my own mother fell ill. In fact, my mother might not be alive if it were not for the passing of the Affordable Care Act.
Dating back to late last year my mother had not been feeling too well in general. Feeling weak and out of breath on a number of occasions she had no idea what was going on. However, at the time she did not have health insurance and therefore resisted going to the doctor in fear that the cost would be crippling and that she would not be able to afford it. Eventually the struggles with her health got bad enough that she finally went and was told that she had pneumonia.
A couple weeks went by and she wasn’t feeling better, so she went back. After further testing it was found that she was suffering from congestive heart failure. Doctors said that her heart was only functioning at 19% of its capacity and declining. They told her that without open-heart surgery to repair her aortic valve and stem she would either live a much diminished life or die in a short amount of time. The damage to her aortic valve was actually caused by rheumatic fever that afflicted her as a child and over time had caused her valve to weaken and deteriorate. It was nothing she had done in her own life that caused the life and death situation she was now in.
If this had happened just five years earlier before the ACA was passed she may very well have died due to a lack of health insurance. I don’t say that to be dramatic at all. Prior to the passing of the Affordable Care Act she would have in all likelihood been denied healthcare coverage on account of her illness being caused by a pre-existing condition (rheumatic fever). Thankfully one of the provisions of the ACA denied insurers the ability to deny people healthcare coverage because of pre-existing conditions.
The law also expanded Medicaid to cover millions who were previously uninsured, which included my mother. Between the full month she spent in the hospital and the open heart surgery, her medical bills would have measured in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. If it were not for the insurance she received through the expansions in Medicaid there is absolutely no way she could have ever afforded those bills and she very well may not be here today.
I’m glad to say that today my mother survived the surgery and is well along the path to recovery and I cannot help but be thankful to President Obama and all of those members of Congress who risked their seats for the greater good. While the votes they cast may not have been popular at the time, I am certain someday they will be looked on by the general public as a step in the right direction. Progress is not always easy, it is not always fast, but it does yield change that lasts and a better way forward than the past. Every vote matters, and none more to me than those that passed the Affordable Care Act in 2011.