The Modesto Bee
By Frank Alvarez and Carla Saporta
Attacks on the Affordable Care Act — the health care reform law passed last year — are ratcheting up in Congress. If they succeed, they will hurt all Americans, and some of the greatest harm will be felt right here in the San Joaquin Valley. The valley’s representatives in Congress need to think long and hard before going further down this road.
While it is unlikely that the recent House bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act will ever pass the Senate, other schemes might have an impact. Reports out of Washington suggest that an attempt to cut off funding needed to implement the law could come within days. Such an effort would be nothing less than an attack on the valley and its most vulnerable citizens.
The old system failed us badly, leaving valley residents more likely to be uninsured than other Californians — at least a million without health coverage even before the recession hit. Chronic, debilitating health conditions such as asthma and diabetes are more prevalent here than in other locations, while shortages of doctors, nurses and hospitals are worse.
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Low- and moderate-income Californians are disproportionately affected by all of these issues, being less likely to have insurance and more likely to suffer from chronic conditions such as heart disease and diabetes. Those conditions have made millions of Americans uninsurable — until now.
Health care reform is fixing that. When fully implemented, the law will bar insurance companies from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions. That provision is in effect now for children, and the law has already helped thousands with such conditions obtain health coverage.
The Affordable Care Act is already having other positive effects, such as reducing what senior citizens on Medicare must pay for prescription drugs. It allows young people up to age 26 to stay on their parents’ health insurance policy.
And — particularly important in a region where agriculture and small businesses play such a huge role in our economy — the law will help small businesses insure their workers by providing tax credits to help pay for coverage. That coverage will come via new Health Benefit Exchanges set up to increase the bargaining power of small businesses and help them cover their workers at a cost they can afford.
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This will make a big difference: 4 million fewer uninsured Californians. That’s 4 million of our neighbors not living in terror of losing their homes if medical costs wipe out their savings. It’s 4 million who will be able to access preventative care, keeping health are costs down for us all. It’s 4 million Californians who will be able to treat their illnesses early, rather than having to resort to emergency rooms when things get desperate — the most expensive and least effective way to deliver medical care.
These changes brought about by the Affordable Care Act are popular. Americans don’t want to again be at risk of losing access to health care because they’ve been sick. They don’t want the elderly to again be battered by prescription drug costs.
A January Kaiser Family Foundation- Harvard School of Public Health poll found that while a minority of Americans support repealing the health care law, a larger number want to leave it as is or expand it. And an even larger majority, 62 percent, opposes Congress acting to delay implementation by blocking funding.
Like any law passed by Congress, the Affordable Care Act isn’t perfect, but it will do a lot to help working Americans and small businesses cope with the cost of medical care. And nowhere in America needs this help more than the valley. That’s something our representatives should remember.