Health care reform is proving to be one of the most deeply divisive issues Congress has tackled in a long time. As a non-profit, non-partisan organization, the last thing we wanted to do was get in the middle of an increasingly partisan battle. But as an organization dedicated to the healthy aging of our nation’s seniors, we have no choice but to speak out on behalf of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, because of the good things in the law passed last March that will help all Americans age safely and healthily.
B’nai B’rith International outlined principles for health care reform as the issue was wending its way through Congressional committees. Our basic pillars: coverage needs to be comprehensive, affordable and securable, so that people can keep coverage they like and get coverage they can afford. Long-term services and supports are vital to those goals. After careful review, we concluded that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act did a reasonable job in meeting those goals and, therefore, we endorsed it.
Any major reform of a complex service industry, whether it be the banks and mortgage industry or health care delivery, will have some pieces everyone likes, some pieces only some like, and some pieces that are necessary, but sound lousy to almost everyone.
As an advocate for seniors and healthy aging, B’nai B’rith International is in favor of expanding health care access and affordability and breaking down barriers to coverage and care. To that end, we chose to endorse the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act because it is a major step in the right direction. It wasn’t cheap, and it wasn’t perfect, but it saves more than it spends (according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, although arguments continue over that) and it changes everything for millions of Americans who have pre-existing conditions, including the "condition" of being over 50.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act increases access to health care throughout one’s lifespan by making coverage possible for those with pre-existing conditions and more affordable for any American in the private market. New estimates from the Department of Health and Human Services find that 129 million Americans have what most insurers would consider to be pre-existing conditions, meaning these individuals are at risk for refusal of coverage if they need to get their health insurance from the private market or have a gap in their employer-provided coverage. It also increases incentives to employers to maintain reasonable health care coverage for more workers than they would have otherwise and fills some real gaps in Medicare.
For years, just about all the health care trends have been bad for just about all Americans—higher premiums, more cost-sharing for workers and more rejections, rescissions and coverage denials for insured people. The most important benefit of this law is that it addresses and improves the situation for just about all Americans in each area.
Full implementation of the new law will take several years as different pieces are phased in. Already, seniors are enjoying the immediate help (which started in 2010) with the gap in drug coverage called the “donut hole.” That’s where seniors paid exorbitant fees for their prescriptions before they were eligible for the next tier of Medicare drug coverage to kick in.
Over the next few years, seniors will continue to reap the benefits of better drug coverage, free preventive care and other improvements. In addition, younger pre-seniors, like much of the baby-boom generation, will age better and healthier, because this law increases their access to employer and private insurance through incentives and limits on age discrimination in healthcare.
To repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act would help no one, while the new law is already helping millions.
Rachel Goldberg, Ph.D., is director of aging policy for B’nai B’rith International