I have practiced medicine for 30 years. I watched as the cost of care tripled and was helpless when even my insured patients could not get the treatment they needed. In 2010, Congress passed the Affordable Care Act, a reform bill based on plans from the conservative Heritage Foundation and similar to Romney's Massachusetts health care plan. Now known as Obamacare, it makes health care more affordable and protects us from some of the worst abuses of insurance companies and hospital corporations. Obamacare is already working and we cannot afford to lose it.
Unfortunately, Outside PACs are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on misleading television ads about Obamacare. Those ads misrepresent Obamacare, and as a doctor I want to set the record straight.
How is Obamacare helping me right now? Obamacare already forces insurance companies to pay for the care they promised to provide when they sold you the insurance. My own patients have had trouble getting insurance companies to cover chronic conditions. Under Obamacare, insurance companies can't refuse to pay for old, "pre-existing" or chronic medical problems. They can't refuse to pay for expensive cancer treatments. Obamacare already protects at least 43,000 Alaskans from losing their insurance.
Why do I need the new health insurance exchanges? Large employers get discounts from the insurance companies. Small employers and individuals, who do not, could not afford health insurance before now. The exchanges are large groups that can negotiate the same discounts enjoyed by big employers. The exchanges, which do not make profits, will pass the savings to you.
Obamacare insures that young people can stay on their parents' coverage until age 26. Even young people need a lot of expensive care. A 20-year-old mother can spend tens of thousands on prenatal care and delivery. A 20-year-old injured in car crash may need half a million dollars of care or more. If that young person does not buy insurance, taxpayers and people with insurance will pay for his or her care. Young people with children also need a lot of care for their kids. If young parents choose not to buy insurance, taxpayers like you will pay for someone else's kids.
Medicine is a complex industry. It employs more people than any other business. With an estimated 1 million pages of laws and regulations, the current system is unbelievably complicated and difficult to navigate. Obamacare simplifies the system for consumers by offering a one-stop shop where people can compare and buy discounted insurance plans.
Obamacare will protect jobs. If we change nothing, we won't be able to afford to pay the millions of people now working in health care: the doctors, nurses, therapists, aides, technicians, housekeepers, maintenance crews and others.
Why do doctors make so much money? Because they can. The new system will help control doctors' salaries to keep health care affordable.
Why do some people want to defund Obamacare? A lot of people make a lot of money from the current system. Some insurance companies have a profit of up to 35 percent and Obamacare will decrease that to only 20 percent. Drug companies make huge profits, charging up to $90,000 for a single dose of some cancer drugs. Obamacare will eventually limit those charges. Some subspecialty doctors make up to $5 million a year and Obamacare will correct that. This year, the few who make so much money will spend hundreds of millions of dollars to fight Obamacare. One special interest group, Americans for Prosperity, is spending $180,000 just on television ads in Alaska.
I have worked in Britain and now work with Canadian doctors. The overwhelming number of Canadians and Europeans love the security and access to care that they get. They now live longer than we do and, by all measures, receive better care at much lower costs. A lot of the information in the television ads regarding Canadian and European systems is just wrong.
Don't believe the baloney that rich insurance companies and hospital systems are feeding you. To maintain affordable access to doctors and hospitals, we need Obamacare.
Robert Lieberson is a neurosurgeon in practice for 30 years. He now lives in Anchorage.
By Dr. ROBERT LIEBERSON