COLUMBIA — You may have noticed that there was a lot of talk during the recent campaign about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Nobody called it that, of course. Its handful of defenders praised “health care reform.” Its horde of attackers railed against “Obamacare.”
The latter far outnumbered the former. Most supporters of the new law, especially incumbents who voted for it, chose either to keep quiet or apologize, approaches that struck me as both cowardly and stupid. What we heard from the critics seemed to be mainly a mix of ignorance and outright lies.
Remember death panels? Rationing? Government takeover? Budget busting? Cutting Medicare? Those were all prominent in the campaign. None of them was true, but none was effectively refuted.
It’s no wonder that a lot of voters, including a depressing number of my fellow senior citizens, wound up confused. Some, I suspect, were misled into voting against their own best interests. So I thought the League of Women Voters was a little tardy when I saw the announcement of last Tuesday evening’s explanation of the law.
Still, better late than never. After a couple of hours in the Friends Room of our public library, I came away better informed. So, I’m sure, did the other three dozen or so attendees. Along with a welcome infusion of actual facts, we learned that the reform remains a work in progress. Much has yet to be organized, and successful implementation is by no means assured.
Providing that education were a professional organizer and advocate for health care improvement, a full-time volunteer with AARP and the physician who heads the Center for Health Policy at the MU School of Medicine.
Amy Smoucha, the advocate, explained that the law will do four main things: It will guarantee access to insurance coverage, modernize medical care, strengthen Medicare and Medicaid and reduce costs.
Ron Sergent, the AARP educator, pointed out that, effective Jan. 1, nearly a million of us Medicare recipients will be able to get free preventative care including annual physicals. Those of us with big drug bills will get discounts, and over the next decade the dreaded “doughnut hole” in drug coverage will be closed altogether. There will also be provisions for long-term care in our homes rather than nursing homes.
Dr. Karen Edison, an MU academic dermatologist with expertise in health policy and telehealth, reminded us that the individual mandate for nearly everyone to buy insurance, which is the focus of much political and legal assault, was essential both to assure coverage and to win participation by the insurance companies and hospitals, both of which will see more paying customers.
She also noted that the United States is the only developed nation in which the costs of illness or injury can bankrupt you.
Already, under the new law, our underemployed kids can stay on our policies until age 26, children with pre-existing conditions can’t be denied coverage, and insurance companies can’t cancel coverage arbitrarily. Small businesses that offer coverage can get tax credits.
The law’s impact is phased in until 2014, when it’s fully effective. That delay, Ms. Smoucha told me, is due in part to the need for governments, employers and insurance companies to organize and in part so the costs can be fully covered. The down side is that the delay also provides opportunity for opponents, including many newly elected Republicans, to work at preventing implementation and whacking away key elements.
If you want more facts, as opposed to rumors and deliberate distortions, here are helpful sources: The Missouri Foundation for Health is an advocacy group. The AARP has a lot of explanatory material, not only for retirees. And the Kaiser Family Foundation is both authoritative and unbiased.
I left the library Tuesday night knowing that all of us have a lot to gain from the new law. Until it’s fully implemented, we also have a lot at risk.
George Kennedy is a former managing editor at the Missourian and professor emeritus at the Missouri School of Journalism.