Voices of Alaska: Happy anniversary to the Affordable Care Act

  • By Susan Johnson
  • Sunday, March 20, 2016 7:59pm
  • Opinion

In terms of significance, the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2010 is often compared to the establishment of Medicare and Medicaid in 1965. The ACA grew out of advances in coverage provided by Medicare and Medicaid — in fact, President Teddy Roosevelt first proposed a national health insurance program in 1912! We celebrate over 100 years of health care progress in 2016.

The ACA turns six on March 23, 2016, and its elder sibling, Medicare, turns 51 a few months later. Both programs continue to evolve, enhancing the lives and health of Americans.

More states continue to expand Medicaid. Thirty-one states, including Washington, D.C., have expanded Medicaid, and it is under discussion in others.

Since the ACA took effect, twenty million uninsured adults aged 18 to 64 gained health coverage. This figure does not include children or adults aged 65 or older. The uninsured rate has decreased substantially across all races and ethnicities throughout the country.

Here in Alaska, 23,029 signed up for health insurance through HealthCare.gov during the recent Open Enrollment Period. Another 12,678 Alaskans gained coverage through Alaska’s newly expanded Medicaid program.

However, the ACA hasn’t impacted only those who have recently gained coverage. Virtually every American has benefitted in some way from the ACA, whether they realize it or not. Here are a few of the benefits we all enjoy:

— Young adults can stay on their parent’s plans until age 26.

— You can appeal your plan’s denial of payment decision.

— Lifetime limits are banned.

— Insurance companies must justify unreasonable rate hikes.

— Many preventive care services are covered at no cost with Qualified Health Plans and with Medicare.

— The Medicare “donut hole” is closing and will be closed by 2020, saving seniors on prescription drug costs.

— Health plans must spend at least 80 percent of your premiums on health care instead of administrative costs.

— Insurance companies can’t deny coverage based upon preexisting conditions.

— Medicare payments to hospitals and physicians are now linked to quality instead of quantity of services provided.

— States are incentivized to come up with innovative plans to improve the health of their citizens.

These are just a few improvements that the ACA has brought to the entire health care landscape. Changes continue to be phased in, bettering health care and health in America.

We are working now to improve care, by encouraging better coordination and prioritizing wellness and prevention. We’re seeing success in programs like the Diabetes Prevention Program, which helps at-risk individuals delay or prevent diabetes. By preventing illnesses before they happen, we can save lives and save money.

We are also giving providers and patients access to their health care data in new ways. Businesses are creating apps to help access electronic health records in innovative ways. Patients become more involved in their own care, leading to better outcomes. This is a win for providers, patients, and the businesses which develop the applications.

Visionary Americans fought for the right for all Americans to have affordable, quality health care. The ACA will continue to bring those visions to fruition this year and for years to come.

Happy anniversary to us all!

Susan Johnson is Regional Director for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Region 10.

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