Two years ago, Congress passed and President Barack Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, a landmark, once-in-a-generation legislation that was decades in the making.
The bill was not perfect. If anything it was too modest and incremental in its approach. I believe it should have included a public option that would bring health care costs down further by providing competition to the insurance companies. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the public option would also reduce federal spending by $88 billion between 2014 and 2021.
But congressional Republicans, not one of whom supported the ACA, believe any health care reform at all represents a grave danger to the nation. They are nostalgic for the old system that left millions uninsured, bankrupting families and small businesses while protecting the interests of the big insurance companies.
Having lost that argument through the democratic process, the Republicans and their allies are now seeking to have the Supreme Court overturn the ACA by judicial fiat.
The Affordable Care Act is not even fully implemented, yet it’s already making a powerful difference in the lives of the American people.
Today, already 2.5 million young adults have gained health coverage, thanks to the ACA provision that allows them to stay on their parents’ plans until age 26. With so many young people facing a bleak job market and therefore unable to get employer-based insurance, this benefit is critical.
Last year, 3.6 million seniors saved a total of $2.1 billion on pharmaceutical costs, with the closing of the “donut hole” coverage gap written into the 2003 Medicare Part D prescription drug bill.
Under the old system, high costs forced many Americans to go without vital immunizations, tests and screenings. But last year up to 54 million people with private health insurance took advantage of at least one preventive care service because of the new law.
Small businesses, who have faced crippling health care costs — 18 percent higher, on average, than larger companies — now qualify for several tax breaks that allow them to insure their employees while staying competitive.
And despite the vitriolic and misogynistic recent backlash from the most extreme right-wing forces, the Affordable Care Act provides major breakthroughs in women’s health care.
More benefits ahead
And there are more benefits to come, if the Supreme Court upholds the law and allows the bill to take full effect. By 2014, at long last, your insurance company will no longer be able to discriminate against you because you have a pre-existing health condition.
All this could be in jeopardy, should the Supreme Court strike down the individual mandate and effectively expunge the Affordable Care Act from the books. According to a RAND study, eliminating the individual mandate, which requires Americans to purchase health insurance, would actually mean 12 million more people will be uninsured but at no additional savings to the taxpayer.
The ACA’s impact has just begun to be felt in American households and communities. It is wrong-minded to dismantle or undermine a plan that will work. Let’s make this the beginning, not the end, of health care reform.
U.S. Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif., is president of Americans for Democratic Action and a former co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Readers may write to her at 2263 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20515.