Four years after passage of the Affordable Care Act, we can move past partisan rhetoric and see what impact this law is having. As it turns out, we now have more Americans with health insurance, and three-quarters of enrollees say they’re happy with their health plans. Meanwhile, budget studies suggest that we’re reducing the long term deficits by reducing waste in the health care system. This is all good news, and worthy of examination.
First, let’s examine the issue of how many people have health insurance. In Alaska, more than 7,000 people got new health insurance plans. That’s part of a national trend that has increased the number and percentage of Americans who have health coverage. In fact, we have reduced the percentage of uninsured individuals from 20 percent to 15 percent, a major expansion in health coverage.
Many of these health plans have new provisions, like guaranteed coverage of preventive care, maternity care and hospital care. According to surveys, 78 percent of individuals with health plans are happy with them, including 74 percent of Republicans. In the past, many of us have been frustrated with insurance companies that canceled coverage when enrollees got sick or that denied essential care. It is very positive to see that more people are enrolled and that people like the care they’re getting.
This improvement in health coverage — more people with better plans — is improving our quality of life. According to surveys, 58 percent of people say they’re better off since the roll out of improved health plans, while only 9 percent are worse off.
For too long, health care costs had been growing much too fast, especially in Alaska. That growth in the cost of health care was forcing Alaskans off insurance and threatening the viability of small businesses that struggled to offer care to employees. Fortunately, the growth in health costs has slowed over the last few years. We need to keep health care affordable while continuing to improve quality of care.
We can’t let politics get in the way of all these positive trends. More Alaskans have health care, and most people are happy with the plans they have. We’ve reduced the growth in health care costs, and a majority of people say their lives are better since implementation of the Affordable Care Act. I think we owe a debt of gratitude to the Alaska nonprofits that have worked hard to help Alaskans enroll in new plans. Let’s keep moving forward and not let politics reverse any of the progress we’ve made.
Robert Lieberson is an Anchorage neurosurgeon.
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