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Thompson: Keep Building on Health Care Law

It May Not Be Perfect, but It’s a Good Starting Point for Improving Our System

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Last week marked the one-year anniversary of the enactment of the Affordable Care Act, a historic step toward making quality, affordable health care a reality for all Americans.

The health care reform law has already helped millions of people by lowering costs, improving the quality of coverage for those who have insurance and providing new coverage options for the uninsured.

Health care reform could not have come at a more important time in our nation’s history. Before the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, insurance companies could drop policyholders when they became sick or deny care because of pre-existing conditions.

Rising costs helped swell the ranks of uninsured adults to
52 million in 2010 — a number that does not include the 73 million Americans who had difficulty paying for care or the 75 million who put off treatment because they could not afford it. Under the current system, our country spends nearly twice the average of other developed nations on health care, yet our outcomes often come up short.

In California, the need for reform came to a head last year, when Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield tried to raise the rates of nearly 700,000 policyholders by as much as 39 percent. More recently, Blue Shield of California announced that it would seek rate increases as high as 59 percent for tens of thousands of individual and family policyholders. Both insurers ultimately backed down amid public pressure, but the problem of passing along costs to consumers still exists. 

The Affordable Care Act was designed to combat exactly these kinds of abuses. Under the law, health insurance companies must report the percentage of total premium revenue that is used for actual health care services for beneficiaries.

In 2010, the top five insurance companies by revenue widened the gap between what they collected in premiums versus what they spent on medical care. The insurers tried to justify the gap, stating rate increases are necessary to keep pace with rising medical costs, but their collective profits of $11.7 billion cast a shadow on this claim.

 In addition to protecting consumers from unwarranted rate increases, the health care law addresses our nation’s shortage of health care professionals, especially in rural areas such as Northern California. The Affordable Care Act increases the funding available to community health centers, which are responsible for providing cost-effective care to tens of millions of Americans.

Additionally, the new law renews focus on primary care, so patients get cost-effective health care from their doctor — not the emergency room. Primary care providers will also receive a boost in their Medicare reimbursement rates so they can continue to address the primary care shortage in their areas.

Public support for the Affordable Care Act has consistently increased as these and other popular provisions have gone into effect. However, after a year of heated and, at times, inflammatory debate, there are still lingering misconceptions about the law and its effects.

In late February, Kaiser Permanente released a health tracking poll that revealed about one in five Americans want to see the law replaced with a Republican alternative. Another 20 percent want to repeal the Affordable Care Act entirely.

The new health care law is certainly not perfect, but starting from scratch is not the solution. Reforming health care has and always will be an ongoing process that will not be completed with the passage of any one bill. But by passing the Affordable Care Act into law, millions of families will now be able to afford to go to the doctor. We have an improved health care system upon which we can continue to build. And that is what matters most. 

Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.) is a member of the House Ways and Means Committee and its Subcommittee on Health.

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