This story is republished from Wyofile.
By Kerry Drake
April 9, 2013
Remember when, only three short years ago, Americans used the debate over the Affordable Care Act to launch the first serious look at our health care system in decades? People finally put aside their differences long enough to ensure we made the right changes, instead of just what helped their own political parties push their agendas.
No? That’s not the way you remember it? That’s because instead of using this unique opportunity to our nation’s advantage, we squandered it and instead allowed extremists to dictate the terms of the debate, snuffing out all hope that the end product would be something that would guarantee every single American would receive health care, regardless of his or her ability to pay.
In other words, what every other industrialized nation in the world, except ours, already does.
No, instead we were treated to absurd debates about death panels and claims that “Obamacare” would bankrupt us. The tactic succeeded in polarizing different interest groups, as the extreme right-wing was helped by Fox News to ooze outright lies that were picked up and bizarrely given credibility by other news organizations. It led to staged protests at congressional town hall meetings that gave the country an extremely warped view of what the proposed federal health care reform would actually do.
From my viewpoint, as a member of the press who isn’t ashamed to be identified as liberal, the success of leaders of the Tea Party, and much of the Republican Party, distorted the country’s view of the legislation so badly that it forced President Barack Obama’s administration to drop key elements of its plan.
Obama and the Democrats quickly abandoned all hope of ever passing universal health care, then caved in to demands to drop the public option for health insurance. By making concession after concession, Obama disappointed and angered his progressive base while the right unfairly portrayed him as some kind of communist. It was a crazy time in American politics, and the law the president squeaked through Congress and ultimately signed was justifiably criticized by people on the right and the left as a hodgepodge of federal regulations that failed to advance the goal of keeping people from having their life savings wiped out due to health care emergencies.
But now, as several of the law’s reforms have gone into effect and others approach their starting dates, it’s a good time to reassess how the Affordable Care Act has changed health care in the country, and specifically what it’s accomplished in Wyoming.
Judging by a March 20 op-ed piece by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius published in the Casper Star-Tribune, the law has resulted in some positive changes in the health care system that should be applauded — especially since they were so denigrated at the time of passage.
Sebelius makes a valid argument that Wyoming residents who have health insurance have more security now, thanks to new insurance market reforms and consumer protections.
She noted that:
More than 5,420 Wyoming Medicare beneficiaries with the highest prescription drug costs have saved an average of $685 on their medications. That’s a big savings for seniors on a fixed income.
Preventive services such as mammograms and flu shots are now available for free to 136,000 people in Wyoming with private insurance plans.
The Affordable Care Act is curbing increasing health costs by cracking down on waste and fraud, and establishing incentives for hospitals to use their monetary resources more wisely.
Wyoming residents are now protected from some of the worst insurance industry abuses, like lifetime coverage caps that could cut off benefits when people need them most.
“These reforms have already led to significant improvements in health outcomes,” stressed Sebelius. “That includes the first drop in hospital readmissions for Medicare beneficiaries on record, which means when people with Medicare go home from the hospital, they are more likely to stay healthy and less likely to have to return for additional care.”
The act has resulted in $1.1 million in rebates for Wyoming residents by limiting the amount that insurance companies can spend on marketing and overhead.
And the best is yet to come: Beginning in 2014, it will be illegal for insurance companies to discriminate against people with a pre-existing medical condition or disability. On Oct. 1, a new health insurance marketplace will give individuals, families and small business owners a better way to find private insurance plans that fit their respective budgets.
By covering more people in Wyoming, fewer residents will have to go to the emergency room to receive basic health care. This should keep the cost of premiums from increasing as rapidly and also reduce hospitals’ high cost of uncompensated care.
I’m still upset that we don’t have universal health care, but the improvements that have resulted from some of the various components of Obamacare should help make future discussions about such care more civil, as people realize they were duped by the misguided, sometimes shameful anger directed at health care reform. I hope that in the next phase of this long national and state debate, it will lead to the day when universal care finally becomes a reality.
— Veteran Wyoming journalist Kerry Drake is the editor-in-chief of The Casper Citizen, a nonprofit, online community newspaper. It can be viewed at www.caspercitizen.com.
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