Few events in American life are more controversial than healthcare reform, the Affordable Care Act, also known as “ObamaCare”. The prejudice against it from the right has been so intense and prolonged that the mere term became a pejorative on sites like Fox News and myths about it began to flourish. I was pleased then to read in a recent (October/November 2012) issue of AARP magazine some good journalistic research putting some of these myths to rest. In hopes of foiling some of the nonsense, and for all you young people out there who haven’t reached AARP age yet, here’s a summary of most of the points made.
Myth: The new law cuts Medicare drastically, so I won’t be able to get quality health care.
Truth: The ACA prohibits cuts to guaranteed Medicare benefits. Its provisions include measures to hold down costs, cut fraud and abuse, and encourage preventive care to avert chronic conditions like diabetes and heart disease.
Myth: “I’ll have to wait longer to see my doctor — or I won’t be able to see my doctor at all.”
Truth: If your current plan allows you to see any doctor in the plan, nothing will change, and many of the ACA’s provisions are aimed at improving quality of care, including some that encourage more physicians to become primary care doctors.
Myth: “If I have Medicare, I will need to get more or different insurance.”
Truth: Not true, Medicare stays the same and there’s no requirement for you to get more coverage.
Myth: What about the statement that the new law “raids Medicare of $716 billion?
Truth: AARP is too polite to accuse Mitt Romney of lying, but this statement is not true. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office recently “estimated that the changes to Medicare in the ACA will reduce spending by a total of $716 billion between 2013 and 2022, which is where the number comes from. Most of this comes from changes to provider payments and correcting overpayments to insurance companies that offer private Medicare plans. These savings are to be used to pay for free preventive care, to close the prescription drug “doughnut hole”, and to increase coverage for the uninsured.
Myth: The law is going to bankrupt America.
Truth: The nonpartisan CBO and the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation say that’s not only false but that the ACA is estimated to save taxpayers more than $200 billion over the next nine years.
Myth: The new law will drive up premiums astronomically.
Truth: Nobody has a crystal ball but it’s clear that bringing the 18 to 29 age group into the plan is going to help subsidize it for less healthy people. This is going to be vastly more efficient than private insurance. Just consider, by already having required private market insurance companies to rebate premiums that exceed 80 to 85 percent of actual costs, approximately “12.8 million Americans received an estimated $1.1 billion in rebates. (I have read elsewhere that between 20 and 30 percent of every healthcare dollar in the private insurance system is eaten up by administration.)
Myth: If I can’t afford to buy health insurance, I’ll be taxed – or worse.
Truth: The law provides exemptions for hardship, and even beyond that there are no criminal penalties. At the most extreme, the IRS will withhold unpaid premiums from tax refunds.
Myth: I’m a small business owner and I’ll pay big fines if I don’t provide health insurance to my employees.
Truth: Penalties apply only to companies with 50 or more workers. Further, there are tax credits available to ease the burden, up to 50 percent of their cost of covering their employees.
Myth: The ACA basically turns our healthcare system into universal care. So now some government bureaucrat will decide how and when I get treated.
Truth: The ACA broadens the insurance base by extending it to the majority of Americans, it does not convert it to a government system. Private plans and employer plans continue. The choice of plan is not dictated and consumers will choose their providers. The big thing is having more people covered.
Myth: If my state doesn’t set up an insurance exchange, I can’t get health coverage.
Truth: If one’s state doesn’t do it, the federal DHS will.
Government can do a lot for people and there is a huge difference when an organization has as its goal doing what science says is right for good health as opposed to maximizing profit. The ACA is already influencing the system toward better health, although it’s ultimately not going to solve the core problem, excessive cost. Only a single-provider government system can do that. But until an educated public can overcome its entrenched prejudice, and unless Grover Norquist drowns it in his bathtub we will have ObamaCare. It is making real progress and its purpose is not to exploit but to help.