With Republicans still hinting they will use the debt ceiling as yet another chance to extort the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, commonly called Obamacare, the Administration released a state-by-state report detailing the damaging impact that repeal would have throughout the country.
"The benefits are real, and the repeal plan pushed by some Republicans in Congress would undermine or eliminate the benefits that millions of middle-class Americans now rely on," White House Deputy Senior Advisor David Simas stated. "The President and supporters of reform are committed to helping ordinary Americans and businesses take advantage of the benefits of the health care law."
"We reached our goal in making sure healthcare gov website significantly improved by the end of November," Simas told reporters in a press call when the report was released, Thursday, Dec. 19. "Then we knew it was time to focus attention on the benefits- tangible benefits, real benefits for hardworking families throughout the country - whether it is the peace of mind that a child with asthma can never again be denied coverage, or the security that a 24-year old will have coverage on your plan through the age of 26, or that seniors can save $2400 on average per senior on their prescription drugs."
But, he said, "If opponents of reform have their way and repeal the law as they have tried on over 40 occasions, all of these benefits across the board would be taken away - reversing, stripping people of new coverage, losing access on services they rely upon and driving up costs."
The impacts are no longer an abstraction, he said, "so that when opponents talk repeal, the clear and hard facts means harming millions of people."
Simas stressed that the health care law does more than give millions of uninsured access - in many cases for the first time - to health care, but it also is helping millions who already have insurance "feel more secure. At the end of the day, this is a pocketbook issue. We are moving forward, we are committed to improving it, fixing it when need to, and focus on enrollment efforts," he said.
But for many, it is more than a pocketbook issue, but quite literally a matter of life-and-death as the legislators pointed out, citing instances of meaningful stories of real people in their districts and even their own families.
Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow told of a family with an 18-month old who, prior to the ACA going into effect, was refused an operation because of a pre-existing condition; once the law was implemented, the child was able to get the operation that saved her life.
This is a law that moving forward will literally save lives and bring more peace of mind to small/large businesses.
"I also heard so much over the years from people who had coverage, thought was okay, but when got sick, got dropped - women with breast cancer got dropped. Insurance was okay when paying in and didn't need it but when needed it, wasn't there- concerns from seniors about high prescription costs that would send them into the donut hole. Now we are making sure maternity care was covered; truth is that in private independent market, until the ACA requirements, 60% of plans didn't offer maternity or prenatal care. Just being a woman, the possibility of getting pregnant was considered preexisting condition.
"I've talked to too many families in Michigan with so many economic challenges - too many families that literally went bankrupt because of medical bills.
This is a law that moving forward will literally save lives and bring more peace of mind to small/large businesses.
She also reminded of the runaway costs of health care, with annual increases at double digits, causing insecurity among businesses and families.
"The reality is we are seeing health care costs rising at lowest rate in 50 years."
Part of the reason is that the ACA requires that 80% of the health insurance premium go to health care. A second reason is that for the first time, there is transparency "and real competition, where small businesses can go to marketplace and have private companies competing for business."
"What we don't need is 40 more votes to repeal the law. What we need is bipartisan effort to make sure it is working, fulfilling the promise of what ACA means for families and businesses. From Michigan's standpoint, the 2 million on private insurance that could get preventive care are thrilled to be in that situation; 4 million including children that don't have to worry about preexisting conditions."
Stabenow said she was the author of the ACA provisions regarding mental health and substance abuse. "For us to say going forward, that if you have disease connected to your brain, heart, kidneys, etc, you will not be discriminated against in co-pays, premiums and kind of care, length of treatment you are receiving truly making the statement that health care is above the neck as well as below the neck.
"This will save lives. This is life changing for families across America."
Representative Joaquin Castro (TX) said, "ACA represents a new day for many Americans. For years, the insurance system was rigged against the average American, the average Texan. In Texas, we seeing more taking advantage of ACA, 3000 in first month, and 14000 in the second month - the second most (to Florida) and we believe the third month will be even better.
"In Texas, we are dealing with a tough, a unique situation. We are not part of the state exchange. The Governor refused to expand Medicaid in a state which has the highest level of uninsured (25%). among the fastest growing demographic group, Hispanics, 38% don't have insurance; 30% of Texas women don't have and are in a dire situation in Texas.
"Not only is there a callous attitude among state's Republican leadership, - they are callous not to accept Medicaid expansion- but they have moved from callous to malicious to impede navigators" who are trying to sign up people for Obamacare," he said.
ACA will help those suffering from chronic disease- Americans in Texas won't stand for repeal of ACA - They will see a backlash."
He noted that a Texas Lt. Governor David Dewhurst has remarked that everyone has coverage - it's called the emergency room.
Representative Matthew Cartwright (PA) said that referring to emergency rooms as universal health care "is not just a callous remark," but results in the "slow death" of the hospital as well, because they see patients when they are extremely sick, because uninsured people put off seeing a doctor until it is often too late, and because they have to provide care, it forces the hospital to cut "every variable expense they can find" - which winds up being the nurses, the medical technologists, the contract emergency room physicians.
"Cutting these things leads to dangerous situations for patients; quality of care has to suffer and finally the hospital itself goes out of business."
He said that Pennsylvania lost 12 hospitals in the last five years- two in Cartwright's own district. As a result, instead of a someone experiencing the onset of a heart attack having to drive 5 minutes to the hospital, they have to drive 25 minutes.
ACA has helped people in Pennsylvania, he said, citing the figures in the newly released report: the state has a population of10 million people, of which 5.4 million have pre-existing conditions "If we would repeal the law, all of a sudden, they are at risk again - coverage could be denied because of not revealing a condition or else they would not be able to get coverage - that includes over 650,000 children in Pennsylvania.
He said that his own sister in law's aunt benefitted-from the law. She contracted a "nasty cancer of the tongue - deadly. My brother in law called every health insurance company in America, 60-70 - no one would touch her, Why would they? But because of ACA, she was able to access a temporary fund set up in PA under the ACA. "She got covered and it saved her life."
He said that 2.2 million Pennsylvanians have gained expanded mental health and substance abuse benefits because of ACA. and closing the donut hole - in first 10 months, 207,000 seniors and disabled saved out-of-pocket expenses on their prescriptions. Also, the cap on what health insurance companies could pocket as profit or administrative costs produced rebates averaging $77 per family to 123,000 consumers.
"We can't go back to a time when people afraid to go to emergency room until something really really bad - wait until they were near death - something that could have been treated by primary care physician with antibiotics ends up as a $20,000 hospital stay. We can't go back to that."
He said that before he entered Congress and was a part-owner of a law firm, for at least a dozen years, health insurance costs rose 10, 15 and 20 percent every year. Last year, the cost rose at the lowest level in 50 years, 1.3%.
With Republicans apparently gearing up for another showdown over the debt ceiling, the Administration seems to be making a preemptive strike to weaken their position by increasing awareness of Americans for the value of the hostage.
"Preemption is a good word," Cartwright said in answer to a question. "From what we've seen over last year, repeal of health care law has become something of idee fixe with certain element of GOP conference. So even though public opinion doesn't want repeal and people want us to work out problems, to fix them as they arise - which there are bound to be - the attitude of a lot, not all, the Republicans, is to pursue repeal.
"I am hoping Republicans will come to their senses and realize how valuable the ACA is to the American people and not because Democrats say so but because American people say so. Still many of them are dead set on repealing. Sen. Cruz, who caused the government shutdown, still talks every day through social media about repealing ACA, so he could threaten the debt ceiling again - we don't put it past him. But part of the purpose of this call is to get the word out about how valuable ACA is."
Asked how concerned the Democrats are about 2014 and how Americans' views of ACA will affect even your own reelection, Castro replied, "By 2014, the reality will overtake the propaganda. The reality of the benefits of ACA will overtake the propaganda machine set up by many on the right wing to disparage the ACA. I don't mean to say there haven't been glitches and problems, but the real tangible benefits of this law - not being denied coverage by preexisting condition, keeping kids on insurance, not hitting lifetime cap - Americans now are experiencing these benefits and that reality is much more powerful than the words of propaganda that Republicans are putting out there.
"I agree with Congerssman Castro - this is not the lasting and enduring negative that is going to play a huge factor in next election," Cartwright said.
"It's time for Republicans to stop refighting these old political battles and work with Democrats, with the President, so that all Americans can have peace of mind," Simas said.
Report Documents Benefits of Obamacare
According to the report just released, nationally:
71 million Americans on private insurance have gained coverage for at least one free preventive health care service such as a mammogram, birth control, or an immunization in 2011 and 2012. In the first eleven months of 2013 alone, an additional 25 million people with traditional Medicare have received at least one preventive service at no out of pocket cost.
Up to 129 million Americans with pre-existing conditions – including up to 17 million children –will no longer have to worry about being denied health coverage or charged higher premiums because of their health status.
Approximately 60 million Americans have gained expanded mental health and substance use disorder benefits and/or federal parity protections.
41 million uninsured Americans will have new health insurance options through Medicaid or private health plans in the Marketplace. Nearly 6 in 10 of these individuals could pay less than $100 per month for coverage.
Consumers have saved $5 billion over the past two years due to a new requirement that insurance companies have to spend at least 80% of premium dollars on care for patients (at least 85% for large group insurers). If they don’t, they must send consumers a rebate. In 2013, 8.5 million enrollees will receive rebates averaging $100 per family.
Insurance companies must submit premium increases of 10% or more for review by experts. In 2012, 6.8 million Americans saved an estimated $1.2 billion on health insurance premiums after their insurers cut back on planned increases as a result of this process.
Since the health care law was enacted, more than 7 million seniors and people with disabilities have saved an average of $1,200 per person on prescription drugs as the health care law closes Medicare’s “donut hole.”
Over three million young adults have gained health insurance because they can now stay on their parents’ health plans until age 26.
Individuals no longer have to worry about having their health benefits cut off after they reach a lifetime limit on benefits. Starting in January, 105 million Americans will no longer have to worry about annual limits, either.
Using funds available through the Affordable Care Act, health centers are expanding access to care by building new sites and renovating existing sites. Health centers served approximately 21 million patients in 2012.
The state-by-state report details the benefits of the ACA for New Yorkers:
4,401,000 New Yorkers on private insurance have gained coverage for at least one free preventive health care service such as a mammogram, birth control, or an immunization in 2011 and 2012. In the first 11 months of 2013 alone, an additional 1,462,800 people with Medicare have received at least one preventive service at no out of pocket cost.
As many as 8,616,000 individuals with pre-existing conditions such as asthma, cancer, or diabetes – including up to 1,048,000 children – no longer have to worry about being denied coverage or charged higher prices because of their health status or history.
Approximately 2,964,000 New Yorkers have gained expanded mental health and substance use disorder benefits and/or federal parity protections.
1,915,000 uninsured New Yorkers will have new health insurance options through Medicaid or private health plans in the Marketplace.
As a result of new policies that make sure premium dollars work for the consumer, not just the insurer, in the past year insurance companies have sent rebates averaging $92 per family to approximately 633,800 consumers.
In the first ten months of 2013, 252,800 seniors and people with disabilities have saved on average $975 on prescription medications as the health care law closes Medicare’s so-called “donut hole.”
160,000 young adults have gained health insurance because they can now stay on their parents’ health plans until age 26.
Individuals no longer have to worry about having their health benefits cut off after they reach a lifetime limit on benefits, and starting in January, 6,432,000 New Yorkers will no longer have to worry about annual limits, either.
Health centers have received $279,469,000 to provide primary care, establish new sites, and renovate existing centers to expand access to quality health care. New York has approximately 600 health center sites, which served about 1,588,000 individuals in 2012.
Karen Rubin, Long Island Populist Examiner
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