Have you noticed how you’re hearing more about the little problems of the Affordable Care Act than about whether or not it should even exist? That’s because it’s working.
Despite concern about potentially higher premiums and narrower networks – and right-wing hyperbole about the program’s supposed “disasters” – health care reform, in general, has been a success in California.
As in any major program’s first year, there have been glitches. We are concerned with ongoing reports – which first surfaced as letters to the editor – that people are being billed for coverage they didn’t know they were getting. First they’re informed they’ve been covered, then the next day they’re billed for the past two months – though they haven’t used their insurance at all. Such miscues are more than irritating and shouldn’t occur. When they do, there should be someone available to address the problem.
Though irritating, such problems are of less significance than the problems Obamacare has solved. Remember when insurance companies could deny coverage for pre-existing conditions such as heart disease and asthma? Remember when coverage was far too pricey for millions of working Americans? Remember when young-adult children had to leave your policy at 18 or when they graduated from college? It wasn’t that long ago.
This month, a report demonstrated another aspect of successful health care reform – more Latinos are covered than ever before. That’s significant because, as a demographic, Latinos have historically had one of the lowest health insurance rates in the nation. Many relied on emergency rooms, costing everyone. The nonpartisan Commonwealth Fund, which researches health care issues, says the percentage of Latinos who lack insurance has plummeted by more than a third, from 36 percent last July to 23 percent a year later.
In California, one of the 25 states to expand Medicaid eligibility, Latino uninsured rates were cut in half, to 17 percent. The overall drop would have been bigger had Texas and Florida not opted against expanding Medicaid to include more working poor people.
Such gains have been seen across the board, nationally and in California. As of June, only 15 percent of Americans were uninsured – down from 20 percent before Obamacare. In California, that figure is a mere 11 percent.
Sure, there’s room for improvement. More states are considering Medicaid expansions, and the private exchanges are just entering their second year. The three-month open enrollment is set to begin in mid-November, and we could cover even more people. While many of these people receive subsidies, all are investing in their own health, contributing out of their own pockets.
This year, Covered California has budgeted nearly $100 million for marketing and outreach, with more boots on the ground and expanded programs, ranging from texting campaigns to neighborhood storefronts. We’d like to see some of that money go to making certain that customers aren’t left fuming over miscommunication or poor execution of plans. Other challenges loom: Premiums must be reasonable, and enrollees must be able to pay them.
It’s time to recognize that Obamacare is working, at least where state politicians let it. So let’s stop arguing about its existence, fix what isn’t working and make what is working well work even better.