The Root

Health Care Reform: One Year Later

The Root — Wednesnday, March 23, 2011

Cynthia Gordy

Wednesday marks the first anniversary of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the law better known as health care reform. But despite the passage of time, according to a new Kaiser Family Foundation survey, most Americans are still confused about how it will impact them personally.

If all goes according to plan, by 2019 when the Affordable Care Act has been fully implemented for five years, it's expected to cover 32 million people through expanding Medicaid eligibility and providing insurance subsidies for the poorest Americans. Everyone else who is uninsured will be required to buy insurance from state-run exchanges or face an annual fine of $695 or 2.5 percent of income. The administration claims that most Americans, who already get insurance through their employer, Medicare, Medicaid or the veterans system, will just keep their insurance.

But how is the legislation affecting people right now? Over the past year, other provisions have already kicked in:

It's a list familiar to anyone who's followed health care reform, but to people affected by the changes, they're more than just empty bullet points.

"I was ecstatic when it passed," Michael Byrus, a 24-year-old community college student from Apex, North Carolina, told The Root. Byrus suffers from Crohn's disease, a painful condition requiring regular treatment which, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, continues to be covered under his mother's insurance policy.

"When I turned 23 last year, I was nervous because the insurance company had sent a letter saying that I was going to be dropped. If I'd lost my insurance, it would have come down to dropping out of school and getting a full-time job just to pay for my medication. I have to take a shot every two weeks, and without insurance it would be $1,000 a pop."

Jacqueline Germany, an interior designer in Montclair, New Jersey [and member of the NJ Main Street Alliance], says she benefited from the law's small business tax credit. Before the legislation, she could only afford to pay for 50 percent of her employees' benefits, but now she's able to cover 85 percent.

"I was also able to shop around and get a lower policy, so I got more bang for my buck," she told The Root. "I'll be getting back $2,000 that I plan on reinvesting into the health care premium pool for my employees. It's helped me a lot toward providing health care, and it's been one less headache in running the business."

Of course, not everyone is thrilled with health care reform. In January House Republicans voted to repeal the law, only to have the measure fail in the Senate, but GOP leaders have vowed to continue the battle. In an op-ed published on Wednesday, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) ripped the law, arguing that it will place a burden on businesses, result in massive job loss, and force Americans to get dropped from their employer-based insurance.

In spite of the doom predicted by Republican critics when President Obama signed the bill — that it would lead to a "socialist government takeover," put seniors to death, and destroy American society as we know it — a year into the legislation, things haven't been so drastic. And according to the Kaiser survey, while 39 percent of respondents would like to see it repealed, 51 percent want to keep the law or expand it.

The Affordable Care Act sure isn't perfect, and as it proceeds there will certainly be bumps in the road. On its first birthday, however, more Americans still think it's worth trying.

Cynthia Gordy is the Washington reporter for The Root.

Copyright 2011 WBAI

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