After decades of debate in Congress over our broken health care system, two years ago President Obama signed into law the Affordable Care Act (ACA). I was proud to support this historic legislation which has already begun to improve access to quality, affordable health care for millions, and look forward to full implementation of the law and the benefits it will bring in the coming years.
Excellent health care should be accessible to all Americans, not just to those fortunate to have large employer health plans. One way the new law will provide quality care to more Americans is by slowing down exploding health care costs. Medicare, Medicare Advantage and Medicare Part B recipients have already seen reductions in their premiums or deductibles. The rapid increase in private health insurance premiums has slowed as well – a report released in September by Mercer, an independent benefits consulting firm, shows the smallest annual increase in premiums since 1997.
Further, the Affordable Care Act ensures that health insurance companies focus on the health of the American people rather than simply trying to turn a profit. ACA requires that private insurance companies spend at least 80 percent of premium dollars on health services, and 85 percent for large group insurers. If companies fail to meet this standard, they must provide consumers a rebate or reduced premiums.
As you may know, reforms in ACA are enacted gradually through 2020. Virginians are already seeing the positive changes from the reforms to our health care system, including:
• Allowing nearly 63,000 young adults in Virginia to remain on their parent’s health insurance;
• Providing Medicare Part D recipients a 50 percent discount on brand-name prescriptions when they hit the donut hole;
• Protecting 438,000 Virginia children from being denied coverage because of a pre-existing condition;
• 1.5 million Virginians with private insurance gained preventive service coverage with no cost-sharing;
• Over 800,000 children have seen an end to lifetime dollar limits on health benefits. Previously, cancer patients and those with chronic diseases were forced to forgo treatment due to a cap on services by private insurers.
The improvements in place are just the beginning of the needed reforms ACA will enact in the coming months and years. Just this week, the New York Times covered a new report finding that in many states, women still pay up to 50 percent more than men for the same health insurance coverage. Charging women exponentially more for health care than men is discriminatory. Beginning in 2014, this practice of “gender rating” will be prohibited and insurance companies can no longer classify being a woman as a pre-existing condition.
From 2014 to 2020, further reforms will be enacted, including a complete ban on annual and lifetime dollar limits on health coverage; the complete closure of the Medicare Part D “donut hole”; and by prohibiting insurance companies from denying any American of any age health coverage based on pre-existing conditions.
As we mark the two-year anniversary of this important legislation, Republicans in Congress are again bringing bills to the House floor to repeal the Affordable Care Act and take away the benefits Virginians are today enjoying. Last year, House Republicans passed numerous bills to repeal provisions in health care reform. Fortunately, we currently have a President and Senate determined to stop their attempts.
While the Affordable Care Act is not perfect, it takes major, concrete steps towards making our health care system finally work for millions of Americans. I will continue fighting back efforts to roll back or repeal provisions in this important new law.
Rep. James Moran (D) is Virginia’s 8th Congressional District Representative in the U.S. House of Representatives.