LENA MITCHELL: The Affordable Care Act is law; take advantage of it

Americans want affordable, quality health care for all Americans. The outcome of the 2008 and 2012 elections, which put President Barack Obama’s emphasis on passing and fully implementing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act front and center, seemed to make it clear that the majority of U.S. voters supported that key element of his agenda.

However, rhetoric of congressional representatives who caused the recent federal government shutdown would have you believe that most people in this country don’t want health care coverage made available to everyone.

Last week as I sat in a doctor’s waiting room I perhaps shouldn’t have been surprised at the blatant spreading of misinformation, even by people who work in the health care system.

Whatever their personal politics – freely and loudly broadcast to anyone sitting near the reception desk – it was a gross disservice to their clients/patients to make clearly untrue assertions about how the Affordable Care Act/Obamacare has and will impact individual coverage.

Since the law was signed in March 2010, the Affordable Care Act has required some changes in individual access to coverage:

• Effective July 1, 2010, people with pre-existing conditions could obtain insurance through high risk insurance pools.

• Effective Sept. 23, 2010, children with pre-existing conditions could not be denied coverage; adults could stay on their parents’ insurance plans to age 26; insurance companies could not drop a beneficiary’s coverage because of a high claim; lifetime limits on benefits were eliminated; some preventive services like mammograms and colonoscopies were added to existing insurance plans.

• Effective Jan. 1, 2011, seniors were able to begin receiving free preventive services through Medicare; and insurance companies were required to spend 80-85 percent of premiums on health services, or refund the difference to customers.

• Effective Jan. 1, 2013, preventive services were expanded to include people on Medicaid, and payments to doctors treating Medicaid patients were increased.

• When the final piece of the Affordable Care Act takes effect on Jan. 1, 2014, no one can be denied health insurance coverage due to a pre-existing condition; insurance companies can no longer impose higher premiums on women; and insurance companies can no longer place a per year limit on expenditures on a claim.

Many people still object to enactment of the Affordable Care Act.

Their objections range from everything from concerns over the “expansion of government,” “mandatory socialized medicine,” “a legal way for Democrats to buy future votes,” and much more.

I even heard an argument that the health care law would infringe on people’s Second Amendment rights because people would be influenced to lead healthier lifestyles, and being a hunter is categorized as a high risk activity.

There are not many Mississippians – rich, well-to-do or poor – who don’t know someone or have a relative who has been financially devastated by illness.

The inability to obtain health insurance due to working for an employer who doesn’t offer coverage, being self-employed, or working as a skilled contractor or consultant, puts many fully employed workers at risk if a devastating injury or illness occurs.

Congress passed the COBRA health benefit law in 1986 so that a worker who left an employer could keep health insurance through the employer’s plan and pay the full cost for up to two years.

The reason the law was necessary was (1) it was almost impossible to find an insurer who would sell individual or family health insurance on the open market; and (2) if you found coverage it didn’t cover pre-existing conditions and the cost was impossibly high.

While the health care law does impose a requirement that everyone have health insurance coverage, even the young, seemingly healthy person who might not want to buy coverage would be grateful for it if diagnosed with a severe illness or involved in a serious accident.

Lena Mitchell is the Daily Journal Corinth Bureau reporter and writes a Sunday column each month. Contact her at lena.mitchell@journalinc.com.