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The Affordable Care Act – Is the Rapture Upon Us?

The Travelling Medicine Cabinet , middle aged travel, travel for over 50
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BY DON PORTOLESE

5, 4, 3, 2, 1… I cautiously peer out from under my covers and see that nothing has happened. It is October 1st, the day that the Affordable Care Act goes into effect. Like similar fabricated apocalypses, the city is eerily quiet. Like 2012 and Y2K there are none of the fire and brimstone consequences, no biblical devastation.  Wait and see is the GOP response. And that is precisely what all of us should do, no matter what side of the debate we are on — wait and see.

The way the GOP paints it, the Affordable Care Act has been in full force since it was voted into law. Although it only went into effect today, it has already destroyed millions of jobs, cost billions of dollars and transformed us into card-carrying Marxists. Those that oppose the law seem to have some sort of crystal ball that the rest of us don’t have. They have the ability to look into the future through the lens of insurance companies, and rightwing politicians beholden to them, to see all the problems that we will face as a result of this legislation. What their crystal ball should say is, “ask again later.”

What we do know is that the Affordable Care Act was created to help not hurt Americans. I’ve never heard the words affordable or care be considered bad words in our vernacular. In fact, any law that requires insurance companies to cover people with preexisting conditions, allows our children to stay on our insurance plan until they are 26, prevents insurance companies from dropping us when coverage becomes too expensive, and adds a healthy dose of competition to the health insurance sector seems to have the interests of the American people at heart.

Yet, the GOP continues to kick up a dust storm of worst-case-scenarios and dubious statistics that obfuscate the facts. First, let’s look at the Republican talking points regarding this piece of controversial legislation. If we want a complete overview of these talking points, we have only to visit our good friend Jim DeMint and the Heritage Foundation website. This is one of the main factories of scare-tactics and doomsday scenarios that fuel the vehement assault on this legislation by the GOP.

The Heritage Foundation says that “Obamacare” is a one-size-fits-all healthcare system that will limit our access to doctors, insurance plans and treatment options. They go still further to say that we will either outright lose our health coverage or be forced to change our current insurance coverage to something inferior. According to these “visionaries”, it will also kill jobs and cause all of our premiums to go up.

First of all, I see no limit to the number of insurance companies and plans coming out of the woodwork as this new legislation begins to go into effect. In fact, if we look at how healthcare reform played out in Massachusetts, we see an increase in the number of insurance companies and plans offered. That’s what we call true capitalism, not some sham where the same insurance companies dictate market prices and coverage plans. I thought Republicans were all about letting the free market solve our problems.

I will not bog you down with a litany of statistics that show where the real interests of those that are for or against the Affordable Care Act lie, or where their predictions fall short. However, a few of these warrant investigation.

The first of these is that you will have to change your insurance provider: Unless you, or your employer, decide to switch to a more comprehensive and economical insurance plan or company, you will maintain your coverage exactly as it is for the time being. The key words and the biggest fears reside in those last words, “for the time being.” Things may happen over time that will change this, perhaps even causing people to seek other insurance options. Just as before, our coverage can change and employers and insurance companies can try to foist additional costs onto those they cover. However, with the Affordable Care Act, we have far more safeguards that will protect us from these unscrupulous practices.  We will also have a more competitive market that will keep quality up and prices down.

This brings us to one of the most legitimate arguments leveled against the Affordable Care Act: its affordability. President Obama says that those who do not have health insurance can expect it to cost as little as their cell phone bill. That may be true, but the coverage they receive will not cover very much. Opponents of the bill state that these limited coverage or “Bronze” plans will require people to pay up to 40 percent of their medical bills out of pocket. However, let’s put things into perspective. These types of plans are not designed for people who plan to go to the doctor when they have a cold. These plans are designed to help those reluctant to buy insurance cover cases where they may require serious and long-lasting medical care. Just like in our previous insurance scheme, there were different plans offering different levels of coverage at different prices. Why demonize something that already exists and will have more options and safeguards?

There are also arguments that premiums will rise and businesses will limit hiring to only part time positions to skirt the law’s regulations. We do see a small trend in this direction among small to medium businesses; however, this is also a result of our fragile economy which is still recovering from the economic recession. Just as with many other pieces of legislation, the market reacts. That doesn’t mean that it is locked into a downward spiral where employers will ruthlessly cut hours just to get around having to provide healthcare insurance for their employees. Less so if the government plans to subsidize the cost of insurance (which it does).

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the highest cost of a Silver Plan, which is what many Americans have, would be no more than $390/month in New York City ($193 after subsidies) and the lowest would be $158/month in Portland, Oregon. As we see in the case of New York City, there will be government subsidies that will bring down prices considerably in areas where health care is not so affordable. These subsidies seem to be missing from any of the statistics that the GOP provides when arguing against the Affordable Care Act. (Except when they complain about how much it will cost – more on that later.)

When the smoke clears from all of this reactionary rhetoric and the real facts present themselves, we may see that the opponents of this legislation were right in some instances and that proponents were right in others. We will no doubt see some hiccoughs and glitches as we try to implement this very comprehensive law. However, the same could be said of our Constitution which still needs an occasional tweak. That certainly doesn’t mean we should scrap it.   Rather than letting a group of misinformed people dictate our policy, perhaps it’s time to simply get behind this thing and give it our best effort.

After all, what do we have to lose? With some tweaks and turns, Americans will very probably have better insurance for their money and more safeguards to protect them from unscrupulous insurance companies.  If it costs a little more to our government, that shouldn’t be such a big deal. With everyone so willing to spend money on every other place on Earth but the U.S., it should be heartening to see that we’re finally getting around to spending our tax revenues on our own people.

And, if it falls flat on its face? Republicans will be able to triumphantly claim it as a political victory and reinstate their standing in the country. Unfortunately, they seem to be more focused on this end result than on giving their own people quality and affordable health care.

Don Portolese is a freelance writer, filmmaker, translator and managing editor of this website. If you wish to respond to his articles, you can reach him for comment at donportolese@gmail.com

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