A new era for healthcare consumers

Jan. 1, 2014, will go down as a great day in U.S. history, a day that transformed our broken healthcare non-system and improved the lives and health of millions of people in this country.

For me, the full launch of the Affordable Care Act represented a huge step toward the fulfillment of my lifelong dream of seeing affordable, quality healthcare available for all Americans. Having had a hand in crafting the legislation, I felt particularly proud of this remarkable, historic achievement.

Was the website launch a disaster? Is there still substantial confusion and frustration? Yes, of course. We still have work to do, as was true of every other huge innovation in both the public and private sector — Social Security, Medicare, Medicare Part D and even Apple.

But I am ready to go head-to-head with any critic — that is, as long as he or she is willing to talk facts and not fantasy — to sing the praises of the Affordable Care Act. Consider these facts:

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The ACA (which I affectionately call ObamaCare), rather than adding to the deficit, reduces it. That’s right, ObamaCare is a deficit buster. In fact, repealing the ACA would cost taxpayers more than $1 trillion over 20 years. That is not my number — it comes from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

The ACA is not a “job-killer.” To the contrary, in the 10 years before Obama- Care passed, we lost 3 million jobs. Since its passage, nearly 8 million jobs have been created. Am I suggesting that the ACA is responsible for all the jobs? Certainly not.

But it was a contributor to job growth, not job loss.

Increases in healthcare costs are at their lowest level in 50 years — exactly the opposite of what the naysayers are promoting. In fact, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has said, “We all know that the president’s healthcare law is driving up healthcare costs.” This isn’t true. For example, because of ObamaCare, there have been 130,000 fewer hospital readmissions, saving an average cost of $12,000 each.

As of Jan. 1, millions of people are receiving their healthcare through the Affordable Care Act, including 2.1 million enrolled in a federal or state marketplace and 3.9 million through expanded Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

Another  3 million young people are now allowed to stay on their parents’ policies until age 26. Once HealthCare.gov was working, 950,000 Americans signed up at the end of December, and enrollment continues to be brisk. People want health insurance!

Best of all, after Jan. 1, life-changing consumer protections went into effect.

The heavy burden of worry over being denied health insurance because of a pre-existing condition disappeared, providing enormous peace of mind. Individuals now have the freedom to change jobs or start new businesses, knowing that by doing so they will no longer risk losing coverage and being left on their own to pay medical costs for ongoing health problems. That alone affects 129 million people in this country, many of whom have not had coverage in decades or even a lifetime.

No longer is anyone subject to lifetime or annual caps on insurance benefits. Think what that means to a person with cancer or to the parents of a child born with a severe chronic disability.

No one will be charged more based on gender or occupation. No longer will women or roofers be subject to higher insurance costs.

Because the ACA limits out-of-pocket expenses, most bankruptcies caused by healthcare expenses will be avoided. Healthcare costs have been the No. 1 reason for personal bankruptcies, and most of those people were so-called “insured” but had inadequate policies that weren’t there when they needed them. While catastrophic plans will still be available for many, health insurance policies now must provide a comprehensive set of 10 benefits. The days of exceptions in the fine print are over.

It’s also important to remind seniors and people with disabilities that, far from hurting Medicare, ObamaCare improved it, closing the “doughnut hole” to reduce the cost of medicine, adding free preventive services and extending the solvency of Medicare by about a decade.

The good news stories are pouring in. The Republicans who continue to demonize the ACA and try to disrupt, delay or repeal it are making a huge political miscalculation. They would be smart to do what Democrats did who had real concerns about Medicare Part D; help their constituents, urge their states to expand Medicaid and help to implement a lifesaving program that is truly a blessing for our country.


Schakowsky has represented Illinois’s 9th Congressional District since 1999. She sits on the Energy and Commerce and the Intelligence committees.