Healthcare in the United States remains a complicated topic—much more so than in many other countries. It’s no secret that, because of the private insurance system that drives most of the industry, it’s not uncommon that people go without healthcare or face bankruptcy in order to cover healthcare costs, even when they have some coverage. Recently, one patient’s posting of his healthcare bills on Reddit.com went viral: the 20-year-old was lucky enough to be covered through his parents’ health insurance but still wound up owing $11,000 when he came down with appendicitis. There’s a clear consensus that getting healthcare in the U.S. is problematic, at best.
The Affordable Care Act was signed into law four years ago, in March 2010, in an effort to deal with many of the rising costs associated with healthcare. Since then, Obamacare, as the law is often known, has been a lightning rod for debate. Earlier this month, Republican David Jolly won a special congressional election in Florida, primarily on a platform of repealing Obamacare. How the law is perceived is often split across party lines, making it hard to sort through the rhetoric.
While the law remains controversial and its future not entirely certain, it is the most significant regulatory overhaul of the U.S. healthcare system since 1965, when Medicare and Medicaid were established. While any change to a system so massive is difficult to estimate, the Affordable Care Act looks to have improved numbers across the board: at the most basic level, more people have access to health care at a cheaper price than we’ve seen in years.
In many ways, however, it’s still early days yet in seeing how the Affordable Care Act really impacts lives. The initial numbers are encouraging, but there are many parts of Obamacare that are still being tested in court. Multiple legal suits have been filed, including one slated to be heard by the Supreme Court, concerning whether companies can refuse to follow provisions of the Affordable Care Act that they disagree with on religious grounds. At stake is a requirement that for-profit employers offer insurance benefits for reproductive healthcare, including birth control, without a copay.
Phil Shiliro, the former director of White House legislative affairs and a current advisor to the President on health care issues, noted that the savings represented by the Affordable Care Act have brought the rate of increase in real health spending per person to its lowest point in 50 years.
“The Congressional Budget Office found the health care law is making significant contributions to fiscal responsibility. The CBO’s most recent estimates show that repealing the law would actually increase deficits by $1.7 trillion over the next 20 years,” said Shiliro. “Moreover, average premiums for coverage through the marketplaces are about 15 percent lower than the CBO previously projected.”
It will take many years for the the details of the Affordable Care Act to play out and demonstrate fundamental changes to the state of healthcare in the United States. But the fact is that millions of Americans can now access health insurance, through state and federal marketplaces, their parents’ plans, or through Medicare and other governmental programs. That alone has translated to millions of people accessing healthcare who couldn’t previously.
For more on the Affordable Care Act… Ask an Expert: Shopping the ACA Marketplace, What Women Should Know About the Affordable Care Act