April 14, 2015 — The Affordable Care Act celebrated yet another milestone at the end of last month. Five years ago, on March 23, 2010, President Obama signed into law the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, changing the face of the American healthcare industry forever. The law has earned a number of nicknames in its brief existence, but the term “Obamacare” has evolved from a critical remark to one of tribute to the president who made it happen. Vice President Joe Biden’s off-the-record comment about the new law’s being a “big f–ing deal” five years ago proved to be correct in several significant ways. The ACA has made healthcare more accessible than ever even as its critics continue to campaign against it. Now, we take a closer look at how this new law has impacted American society.
Failed Predictions by the Opposition
Republicans and other opponents of the ACA continue to make many of the same arguments today as they did five years ago despite evidence to support the new law’s successes. These failed predictions regarding Obamacare only show how divided the country still is on major political issues, but they do nothing to overshadow the ACA’s many achievements.
First and foremost, the new law has enabled millions of individuals and families throughout the United States to sign up for health insurance for the very first time. When the second enrollment period ended a month ago, the government reported that nearly 12 million people had enrolled in a qualifying plan. A Gallup poll also revealed that the total number of uninsured had decreased to about 12.9 percent or 30 million Americans. While we still have a ways to go in insuring those 30 million people, it’s clear that the new law is accomplishing its main objective in bringing health insurance to the masses.
In terms of affordability, many objectors to the ACA claimed that skyrocketing health insurance premiums would have a devastating effect on the American economy. People would lose their jobs, benefits would be cut and the cost of healthcare would inflate astronomically. On the contrary, the economy continues to recover, and the ACA may be partially responsible for the upswing in job creation and general satisfaction among consumers. Health insurance premiums have not risen dramatically. In fact, rate increases are at an all-time low historically speaking.
The fact is that more Americans can now purchase health insurance and see their doctors. As more people visit their primary physicians and take better care of their health, we should see less of a strain on the healthcare industry as a whole. The ACA grants access to insurance to people with pre-existing conditions. For the first time, millions of people can prevent or treat life-threatening conditions. Insurers are being held accountable for their actions, and many of the top insurance providers in the country have jumped on board the Obamacare bandwagon by offering affordable insurance plans on federal and state marketplaces.
Legal Challenges on the Horizon
Unfortunately, arguments against the law continue from the opposing side. The Supreme Court will once again have to decide on key elements of the ACA in a case being brought against the law this summer. The King v. Burwell case argues that federal subsidies should not be awarded to people who live in states that don’t manage their own marketplaces. Currently, only 14 states administer their own state-based exchanges. If the Supreme Court decides that people in the remaining states aren’t eligible for federal subsidies, then an additional eight million people will be unable to afford the plans that they’ve already signed up for. It’s a case that could undermine a significant benefit of the ACA.
Celebrating for Years to Come
It’s easy to get discouraged by the continued debates and ongoing legal challenges against the Affordable Care Act, but as the new law rings in its fifth year, proponents have a lot to celebrate and a lot to work on still. The challenges will be in expanding Medicaid in the states that have opted not to extend benefits, in reaching key demographics such as young adults and Hispanics, and in making sure that health plans remain affordable on and off the marketplace for millions of satisfied consumers. The new law may not be “new” anymore, but it’s still a work in progress. As Obamacare revels in its many victories over the past five years, we look forward to greater successes in the years to come.