WASHINGTON - We recently marked the second anniversary of passage of the Affordable Care Act - the landmark health care reform law that we passed in 2010. In the two years since, there has continued to be a vigorous debate about the law, and after the Supreme Court recently heard several days of arguments about the law, I'm sure that debate will continue.
This bill will help make health insurance more secure for those who already have it and make coverage available for millions of uninsured Americans. And it is important to remember that for those who already have health insurance, the law allows you to keep your existing plan. While much of the law has yet to take effect, already it has made significant improvements in the lives of hundreds of thousands of Michiganians and millions of Americans.
Maybe the biggest immediate impact was the Affordable Care Act's improvements for young people, who have already benefited from some important provisions that have gone into effect.
Sen. Carl Levin
For instance, as of September 2010, insurance companies can no longer deny coverage to children with pre-existing health conditions. This is a monumental achievement, one that will help ensure that children with life threatening illnesses will be assured access to health insurance. In 2014, these protections will be extended to all ages.
Additionally, as of September 2010, young adults are now allowed to remain covered by their parents' health insurance until age 26. As a result, as of last year, more than 57,000 young people in Michigan, and nearly 2.5 million nationwide, have health insurance they might otherwise have had to go without.
The law also made a number of changes to Medicare that in addition to helping preserve this important program for future beneficiaries gave new benefits to existing Medicare patients.
For example, Medicare now assures free preventive care, such as annual checkups, cancer screenings, flu shots and mammograms. More than 1 million Michigan beneficiaries of Medicare now have access to these important preventive-care services without cost. That's better for beneficiaries - who will be healthier as a result - and it can also help lower overall costs by catching health problems early before they're more severe and more expensive to treat.
The law also made prescription drugs more affordable for seniors. Previously, Medicare prescription drug users faced high costs when they reached the so-called "doughnut hole," which left a big gap in their prescription drug benefits. The Affordable Care Act provided a $250 rebate in 2010 to temporarily provide some help to seniors who hit the doughnut hole, and more than 90,000 Michigan seniors took advantage. Last year, seniors in the doughnut hole got a 50 percent discount on brand-name prescription drugs, and that provision saved Michigan seniors nearly $50 million in drug costs. Under the Affordable Care Act, the doughnut hole will disappear altogether in 2020.
The law also required insurance companies to spend at least 80 percent of the revenue they receive from insurance premiums on patient care and no more than 20 percent on administrative costs or pay for executives or marketing.
Thanks to this provision, up to 2 million Michiganians with private insurance are receiving more care for their health-care dollar.
The law also has provided more than $46 million to Michigan to extend health care into areas of the state without enough doctors or other health care providers.
Over the coming months, additional provisions of the Affordable Care Act will take effect to deliver better care and better value for our health care dollars. In October, rules will take effect that promote the use of electronic medical records, which will help reduce costly, inefficient and often inaccurate paper records and make it easier for doctors and other health care providers to better coordinate patient care and avoid duplicative tests. Later this year, Medicare will begin offering financial incentives for hospitals and health care providers to provide high-quality care by better coordinating their efforts.
In 2014, Americans who don't have health insurance will be able to buy affordable coverage with high quality standards through health care exchanges - state-based marketplaces that allow consumers to compare their coverage options and get the best value for the dollar. Already, the Affordable Care Act has provided more than $10 million in grants to help Michigan set up its exchange. Also in 2014, rules take effect preventing health insurance companies from denying you care because your illness requires costly medical services.
I'm sure the debate over the Affordable Care Act will continue. But these facts show that the law is clearly beginning to help Michiganians get better care at more affordable costs.
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Carl Levin is the senior U.S. senator from Michigan.