Health Care Reform One Year Later

President Obama signed the historic Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act into law on March 23, 2010, and its first changes went into effect on July 1 of the same year. But signing that bill was just the beginning of a passionate national health care debate. Even one year later, the dust is far from settling.

One of the most politically divisive issues in the United States’ history, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act has been at the forefront of public and Congressional discourse practically from the moment it was written. Reforming the health care laws of the early 20th century has been a topic of discussion since the 1970s.

Yet, revisiting the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act today is really just rehashing what was signed into law a year ago. Not much has actually changed, though those opposing the Act in the deeply divided Congress say it will change, and soon.

“Reforms under the Affordable Care Act have brought an end to some of the worst abuses of the insurance industry,” says the White House on its health care reform website, www.healthcare.gov.

Some of the more prominent facets of the reform include ending lifetime and some annual limits on care, allowing adults under age 26 to stay on their parents’ insurance plans, and forbidding insurance agents from denying care to children with preexisting conditions.

Regarding Medicare, almost 48 million of those receiving aid are eligible for free preventive care, including mammograms and colonoscopies, among other Medicare-specific reforms like prescription drug discounts.

The Act also takes into special consideration the disparities surrounding health care and minority populations. Minority Nursefrequently covers the lack of access to care and disproportionate incidences of disease, and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act outlines several initiatives to combat those inequalities.

Especially pertinent to low-income patients, the Act calls for subsidized preventive health care services like annual exams, immunizations, and cancer screenings for those falling into certain eligibility groups. It also invests in cultural competency and language training, chronic condition management teams, and community clinics, with a goal of doubling the number of patients those clinics can serve. The Act also provides funds for home care visits for pregnant women and new mothers, in an effort to stem the low birth weight and infant mortality epidemic affecting minorities.

Finally, by 2014, the Act will establish State-based Health Insurance Exchanges that will create a competitive health insurance marketplace and “guarantee that all people have a choice for quality, affordable health insurance even if a job loss, job switch, move, or illness occurs,” according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.

Multiple parties have already questioned the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s constitutionality, saying Congress does not have the power to require individuals to buy health insurance. The Obama administration has countered these claims, pointing to Congress’s Constitutional right to regulate interstate economic activity. The crux of the Act is fostering those State-based Health Insurance Exchanges, giving states flexibility in their implementation and giving individuals a choice that spans state borders. Surveys conducted by third parties, such as the Harvard School of Public Health, showed many Americans support the Act and many of its provisions, and that there is no swell of people hoping to have it repealed. Obama’s Congressional Budget Office also estimates the Act will eventually save money, reducing the deficit by $138 billion.

The White House, for its part, has tried to tout those functions of the Act that are already helping people, like the Medicare discounts and continued insurance coverage for young adults. However, though millions have already benefited from the law, most of the country has yet to feel its effects, making the continuation of these costly and sweeping changes seem pointless. The Act calls for more drastic health care overhauls through 2014, including many of the provisions directed toward reducing health disparities, but for the uninsured and underinsured, that can be a long wait. 

Of course, speeding up the implementation of the Act isn’t an option, but voting during the 2012 election is. Nurses can support these changes (or refute them) with their vote. In the meantime, nurses can educate themselves, as the repercussions of the Act—whether it endures or is repealed—will be felt in communities and clinics, in juggernaut HMOs and small businesses, for years to come.