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“Millions And Millions”: How Many People Has Obamacare Helped?

As the deadline to sign up for an insurance policy that takes effect in 2014 passes on December 23, the next crucial step in the debate about the future of the Affordable Care Act begins.

On January 1, Republicans will make the case that because of the estimated five million cancelation notices that went out last year, more people are uninsured under the president’s signature legislative accomplishment than newly insured.

The White House is preparing to rebut that argument aggressively. Last week, an administration official asserted that only about 10 percent of those who received those notices had not found a replacement plan, as most were offered another option by their current insurer. The remaining 500,000 or so have been offered a special exemption from the individual mandate.

But it will be almost impossible to know right away if the number of net insured went up in January, The Washington Post‘s Sarah Kliff explained on Friday.

“It’s the exact opposite of weather forecasting,” Stan Dorn, a senior expert at the Urban Institute, told Kliff. “There, you can be pretty confident of what will happen tomorrow but no idea about the future. Here it’s the reverse: Over time there will be significant gains, but that will take years, not months.”

All we have now is estimates, as some states are reporting signups and some are announcing actual enrollment numbers. As of Friday, 3.3 million people had signed up for insurance through the Affordable Care Act, with at least 970,000 of them having enrolled in private insurance plans, according to ACAsignups.net.

But these numbers don’t tell the whole story, Campaign for America’s Future’s Dave Johnson points out:

—71 million Americans on private insurance have gained coverage for at least one free preventive health care service such as a mammogram, birth control, or an immunization in 2011 and 2012. In the first 11 months of 2013 alone, an additional 25 million people with traditional Medicare have received at least one preventive service at no out-of-pocket cost.

—Up to 129 million Americans with pre-existing conditions—including up to 17 million children —will no longer have to worry about being denied health coverage or charged higher premiums because of their health status.

—Approximately 60 million Americans have gained expanded mental health and substance use disorder benefits and/or federal parity protections.

—41 million uninsured Americans will have new health insurance options through Medicaid or private health plans in the Marketplace. Nearly 6 in 10 of these individuals could pay less than $100 per month for coverage.

—Consumers have saved $5 billion over the past two years due to a new requirement that insurance companies have to spend at least 80 percent of premium dollars on care for patients (at least 85 percent for large group insurers). If they don’t, they must send consumers a rebate. In 2013, 8.5 million enrollees will receive rebates averaging $100 per family.

—Insurance companies must submit premium increases of 10 percent or more for review by experts. In 2012, 6.8 million Americans saved an estimated $1.2 billion on health insurance premiums after their insurers cut back on planned increases as a result of this process.

—Since the health care law was enacted, more than 7 million seniors and people with disabilities have saved an average of $1,200 per person on prescription drugs as the health care law closes Medicare’s “donut hole.”

—Over three million young adults have gained health insurance because they can now stay on their parents’ health plans until age 26.

—Individuals no longer have to worry about having their health benefits cut off after they reach a lifetime limit on benefits. Starting in January, 105 million Americans will no longer have to worry about annual limits, either.

—Using funds available through the Affordable Care Act, health centers are expanding access to care by building new sites and renovating existing sites. Health centers served approximately 21 million patients in 2012.

The millions and millions of people who’ve been helped by the law won’t be counted as the press tries to game out if Obamacare will reach the seven million private insurance signups the Congressional Budget Office predicted for its first year. But they’re definitely out there, and they’d be among the millions who would be affected if the GOP is ever successful in repealing the law.

 

By: Jason Sattler, The National Memo, December 22, 2013

December 24, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Obamacare | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Suspension Of Intellectual Honesty”: Mitt Romney And Paul Ryan’s Medicare Hypocrisy

On the matter of Medicare, Mitt Romney’s campaign seems to have adopted the approach that the best defense is a good offense. And while it should come as no surprise that their attacks require a degree of shamelessness and a suspension of intellectual honesty, the scope of it is breathtaking.

When the former Massachusetts governor tapped House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan as his running mate, he immediately took ownership of Ryan’s biggest liability, that he proposed to replace Medicare, the Great Society-era program which guaranteed health coverage for senior citizens, with a voucher-based program of the same name. The vouchers would cover a diminishing portion of seniors’ healthcare costs and they’d be on the hook for the balance. The fundamental promise of Medicare would be gone.

Understandably, this proposal is unpopular, especially among senior citizens (though he exempts current Medicare beneficiaries from his proposal). So how has the Romney campaign elected to deal with this political problem? Going on offense, of course.

Obama, Romney and the GOP has started charging, “robbed” Medicare to pay for his health reform program. It’s true that Obamacare cut Medicare reimbursements (not benefits). That would be a clean political hit attack but for one small problem the Romney-Ryan team has: Ryan’s budget keeps those $700 billion in cuts. Oh, and Romney has endorsed Ryan’s budget.

If that sounds confusing, here it is more simply: Romney and Ryan are condemning Obama for Medicare cuts that they both endorse. Like I said, it’s pretty breathtaking.

But wait, there’s more.

As The New Republic’s Jonathan Cohn writes:

The most significant difference between the two sides, at least for the short- to medium-term, is how they handle the savings these cuts generate. Obamacare puts the money back into the pockets of people who need help with their medical bills. A portion of the money is earmarked for children and non-elderly Americans, who, starting in 2014, will become eligible for Medicaid or receive tax credits to offset the cost of private insurance. A smaller, but still significant, portion of the money is for seniors. It helps them pay for prescription drugs, by filling the “donut hole” in Medicare Part D coverage. It also eliminates out-of-pocket costs for annual wellness visits, some cancer screenings, and other preventative services.

Ryan’s budget—which, again, Romney has repeatedly embraced and said he would sign—actually takes those new benefits away. The Part D donut hole would open back up. Access to free preventative care would vanish. And where would Ryan and Romney put the money instead? They say it’s for deficit reduction. I’d say it’s really for their big new tax cuts, which disproportionately benefit the wealthy.

If nothing else, the Romney-Ryan campaign has an impressive level of chutzpah.

 

BY” Robert Schlesinger, Washington Whispers, U. S. News and World Report, August 13, 2012

August 14, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Affordable Care Act Delivers Big Savings For Seniors

Most of the Affordable Care Act won’t take effect for a few years — and if court rulings and the 2012 elections go a certain way, it may not take effect at all — but there’s already evidence that the reform law is working.

It’s making a big difference in providing coverage for young adults; it’s providing treatment options for women like Spike Dolomite Ward; and it’s slowing the growth in Medicare spending.

It’s also, as Jonathan Cohn explained, saving seniors quite a bit of money on prescription medication.

Under the terms of the Affordable Care Act — yes, Obamacare — pharmaceutical companies provide a 50 percent discount on name-brand drugs for seniors who hit the “donut hole.” The donut hole is the gap in coverage that begins once an individual Medicare beneficiary has purchased $2,840 in drugs over the course of a year. At that point, the beneficiary becomes completely responsible for prescription costs — in other words, he or she has to pay for them out of his pocket — until he or she has spent another $3,600.

It may not sound like a lot of money. But the seniors who hit the donut hole are, by definition, the ones with the most medical problems. Saving a few hundred dollars, on average, makes a real difference. And that’s precisely what’s happening, according to data the administration released today. According to its calculations, 2.65 million seniors hit the donut hole — and then saved an average of $569 each. The data runs through October. More seniors will hit the donut hole through year’s end, so the total number of beneficiaries who take advantage of the discount in 2012 should end up higher.

In an interview with USA Today, Jonathan Blum, director of the Center for Medicare, added, “We’re very pleased with the numbers. We found the Part D premiums have also stayed constant, despite predictions that they would go up in 2012.”

Seniors have been some of the biggest skeptics of the Affordable Care Act, but they’ve also seen some of the most direct benefits. Indeed, USAT’s report went on to note that as of the end of November, “more than 24 million people, or about half of those with traditional Medicare, have gone in for a free annual physical or other screening exam since the rules changed this year because of the health care law.”

If Republicans repeal the law, all of these benefits will simply disappear. It’s something voters may want to keep in mind.

 

By: Steve Benen, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, December 7, 2011

December 8, 2011 Posted by | Health Reform | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Seniors, Are You Paying Attention To Paul Ryan’s Medicare Plan?

Tea Party members who railed against health care reform because of the spin they were sold about how “Obamacare” would affect Medicare played a big role in returning the House of Representatives to Republican control.

I’m betting that many of them, if they’re paying attention to what Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin), wants to do to the Medicare program, are having some serious buyer’s remorse. If Democrats are wise, they’re already drafting a strategy to remind Medicare beneficiaries, including card-carrying Tea Party members, just how fooled they were into thinking that Republicans were the protectors of the government-run program they hold so dear.

As a speaker at an especially contentious town hall meeting during the summer of 2009, I saw firsthand just how many senior citizens were snookered about how reform legislation would alter Medicare. Shortly after I testified before Congress about how the insurance industry was conducting a behind-the-scenes campaign to influence public opinion about reform, Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-New Jersey) invited me to share my perspective as a former insurance industry insider at his September 3, 2009, town hall meeting at Montclair State University.

More than 1,000 people had crammed into the school’s auditorium, not so much to hear the speakers as to express their opinions. Reform opponents were on one side of the auditorium, and reform advocates were on the other side. I had to shout just to be heard above the insults the groups were hurling at each other. Many of the reform opponents were carrying signs that read, “Hands Off My Medicare!” They clearly had bought the lie that the Democrats planned to dismantle the program.

There was no doubt in my mind that the insurance industry was the original source of that lie. While insurers liked the part of reform that would require all Americans not eligible for Medicare or Medicaid to buy coverage from them, they did not like the provision that would eliminate the overpayments the federal government has been paying private insurers for years to participate in the Medicare Advantage program, which was created when Republicans controlled both chambers of Congress in the late 1990s.

A little history: A provision of the Balanced Budget Act of 1997, written primarily by the insurance industry and backed by House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, gave Medicare beneficiaries the option of getting their benefits through private insurers. Republicans envisioned this as the first step toward the total privatization of Medicare.

The Insurance Industry’s Government Favor

The problem was that insurers were reluctant to jump in unless they could be assured of a substantial profit. To get them to market Medicare Advantage plans, the government agreed to give them a big bonus. As a result, we the taxpayers now pay private insurers 14 percent more than the per-patient cost of the traditional Medicare program. These overpayments have contributed significantly to the record profits insurance companies have been posting in recent years, even though only 22 percent of people eligible for Medicare have bought what they’re selling.

The insurers were not able to keep the Democrat-controlled Congress of 2010 from eliminating those bonuses when they passed the Affordable Care Act. The law will indeed reduce future Medicare spending — not benefits — by an estimated $500 million over the next 10 years in a variety of ways, one of which is to stop overpaying insurers. This means that they will not get an extra $136 billion that they — and their shareholders — had been counting on, and they’re really bummed about that.

Knowing they fare much better when the GOP is running things on Capitol Hill, they devoted millions of the premium dollars we paid them to help elect more Republicans to Congress.

An Insurer-Funded Misinformation Campaign

The insurers funneled millions of dollars to their business allies and front groups in an effort to convince the American public that the Democrats wanted to cut Medicare benefits. Not only is that not true, but the new law actually adds an important new benefit and greatly improves another. For the first time, Medicare now pays for preventive care. And the law closes the hated “doughnut hole” in the Medicare prescription drug program.

But thanks to the success of the insurer-funded misinformation campaign, many seniors went to the polls last November convinced that the Democrats not only had created death panels in the Medicare program, they had also slashed their benefits.

The insurance industry funneled $86 million to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to pay for TV ads that charged that the new law would “cut Medicare.” Also joining in on the campaign of lies was the 60 Plus Association, a group that, according to the Washington Post, AARP and other sources, has received the lion’s share of its funding over the years from the pharmaceutical industry and other special interests.

The 60 Plus Association ran TV ads in numerous congressional districts last fall against Democrats who had voted for the reform law. The ads were amazingly effective. Most of the Democrats they targeted lost.

The irony, of course, is that the GOP had no intention of preserving Medicare as seniors have known it since it was created more than 45 years ago. Ryan’s plan to reduce the deficit — which was approved by the House last week — would complete the privatization of Medicare that insurers and their Republican allies have been plotting for years.

The Republican Effort to Kill Medicare: a Losing Proposition

Ryan wants to give Medicare beneficiaries a voucher they can use to get coverage from a private insurance company. Initially, the vouchers would enable beneficiaries to get coverage comparable to what they have today. But the value of the vouchers would diminish over time. The Congressional Budget Office predicts that 65-year-olds would be paying 68 percent of their Medicare coverage costs by 2030, compared with 25 percent today.

What this means is that almost all Medicare beneficiaries would eventually be woefully underinsured, just as an estimated 25 million younger Americans already are and just as most of the nation’s elderly — the ones who could afford coverage at all — were before Medicare was enacted in 1965. (Most senior citizens had no health coverage before Medicare because insurance companies refused to sell it to them. That’s why it was so urgently needed.)

Ryan’s plan is a losing proposition for just about every American who lives long enough to qualify for Medicare benefits, but it is the business model that insurance firms have been dreaming of for years. It would enable them to reap profits that would make their earnings today pale by comparison.

If Democrats have any hope of keeping control of the Senate and regaining the House, they better be able to explain what’s really going on in ways that even the Tea Party seniors will understand. If I were a Democratic strategist, I would be ordering enough “Hands Off My Medicare” signs to blanket the country.

By: Wendell Potter, Center for Media and Democracy, April 18, 2011

April 18, 2011 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Budget, Congress, Conservatives, Deficits, Democrats, Economy, Elections, GOP, Government, Health Care, Health Care Costs, Health Reform, Insurance Companies, Medicaid, Medicare, Pharmaceutical Companies, Politics, Public Opinion, Rep Paul Ryan, Republicans, Seniors, Tea Party, U.S. Chamber of Commerce | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Health Reform Act Already Saving Lives Of Many Americans

Is the health care reform law a good deal for Americans, or is it so badly flawed that Congress should repeal it? Now that the measure is one year old — President Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to law on March 23, 2010 — I humbly suggest we attempt an unbiased assessment of what the law really means to us, and where we need to go from here.

To do that in a meaningful way, we must remind ourselves why reform was necessary in the first place. I believe the heated rhetoric we’ve been exposed to since the reform debate began has obscured the harsh realities of a health care system that failed to meet the needs of an ever-growing number of Americans.

Among them: seven-year-old Thomas Wilkes of Littleton, Colorado, who was born with severe hemophilia. You would never know it to meet Thomas because he looks and acts like any other little boy his age, but to stay alive, he needs expensive treatments that over time will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Thomas’s parents were terrified before the law was passed because the family’s health insurance policy had a $1 million lifetime cap. Thanks to a provision in the law that makes lifetime caps a thing of the past, they can sleep easier at night.

Another person who faced the real possibility of not being able to pay for needed medical care is Robin Beaton of Waxahachie, Texas. Her insurance company notified her the day before a scheduled mastectomy two years ago that it was canceling her coverage. Why? Because Robin had forgotten to note when she applied for insurance that she had previously been treated for acne.

So Beaton – who told her story to a congressional committee — was a victim not only of breast cancer but of “rescission,” a once-prevalent practice in the insurance industry. The congressional panel — the House Energy and Commerce Committee — discovered that just three insurers had rescinded the policies of 20,000 people over the course of a five-year period, confirming for lawmakers that the practice was widespread and growing. By rescinding those 20,000 policies, the three companies avoided paying for more than $300 million worth of medical care, much of it for critically ill people. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, Beaton and the rest of us will no longer have to worry that our insurance policies will be canceled when we need them most because of innocent omissions on applications.

Reform Will End Common Insurance Company Abuses

That same congressional committee discovered during another investigation that the four largest U.S. insurance companies had refused to sell coverage to more than 600,000 people with pre-existing conditions over a three-year period. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, insurers can no longer deny coverage to children with pre-existing conditions. The law will apply to all of us by 2014.

In addition, young people who have not been able to find jobs that offer health care benefits can now stay on their parents’ policies until they are 26. Young adults, many of whom haven’t been able to find jobs, or who work for firms that don’t provide coverage, comprise the largest portion of the nearly 51 million Americans who are uninsured.

The new law also eliminates copayments for preventive services and requires insurers to establish appeals procedures for denied coverage or claims. And the law has additionally begun to close the infamous “doughnut hole” in the Medicare prescription drug program. Medicare beneficiaries are also now getting better coverage for preventive care. And small-business owners who provide benefits to their employees are being helped by tax credits available for the first time.

Another important provision of the new law requires insurers to spend most of what we pay them in premiums on medical care. In 1993, insurers on average were spending 95 percent of our premiums paying medical claims. That average has dropped steadily ever since. In many cases, especially in the individual and small-group markets, insurers have been spending as little as 50 percent on medical care. The law requires insurers to spend at least 80 percent (85 percent in the large-group market) on health care services or quality improvement activities. Those that don’t will have to pay rebates to their policyholders.

Coming Phases of Reform Will Help Control Costs

Other helpful parts of the law will be phased in. By 2014, for example, states will have to set up health insurance exchanges, which should help control costs. Between 2000 and 2010, American families saw annual premiums increase 114 percent on average from $6,438 to $13,770, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. While employers often still pay the lion’s share of health insurance premiums, workers are seeing their portion increase every year. During the last decade, worker contributions to health care premiums increased 147 percent. The exchanges, if implemented as Congress intended, should bring down the cost of premiums by fostering competition among insurers. The exchanges will also require insurers to provide data that will enable us to make apples-to-apples comparisons among various benefit plans.

Even after the law is fully implemented, there will be much to do. While an estimated 30 million Americans will be brought into coverage, more than 20 million others will still be uninsured. There’s also still work to be done on addressing the underlying costs of health care in the United States.

But the Affordable Care Act is a start. Let’s consider it just that — a start — and an important one on our shared journey toward a health care system that works better for all of us. If we stop to think for a moment about what needed to be fixed, about why the health care system in the world’s richest country was failing an ever-growing number of Americans, I believe we will want to continue the journey.

By: Wendel Potter, Op-Ed Columnist, Center for Media and Democracy, March 24, 2011

March 24, 2011 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Congress, Health Care, Health Reform, Insurance Companies, Medicare, President Obama, Uninsured | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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