During our national debate about health care reform, the doctors of the Washington State Medical Association have maintained the position that our current system is unsustainable, and that fundamental changes are needed. In Washington State, many of these changes are now under way, and our state has become a national leader in implementing the Affordable Care Act as we work to create our own exchange that will make it easy for people to compare and buy their own insurance that will actually cover them for the medical conditions they have.
We now know that the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, will affect all of us, so this is a good time to make sure that we all understand the facts about what it will do. Virtually all patients in Washington State will have insurance coverage with the promise of access to care as of 2014, and we expect that this will make it much easier for people get the care they need, when and how they need it. Here are some common misperceptions about the law, along with clarification about how the law will really work.
Common belief: Obamacare is a government takeover of health care.
Actually: No. The Affordable Care Act provides regulations for how regular insurance companies must work with you and has no government plan. It preserves private plans, makes more people eligible for Medicaid, and strengthens the private insurance market.
Common belief: The law is just about insurance and not about cost.
Actually: The law also promotes new models of care, innovations, and research to start improving care while decreasing costs. Here in Whatcom County, for example, the Whatcom Alliance for Healthcare Advancement has received one of these grants!
Common belief: The law is just about insurance and not about health.
Actually: Not really. The law creates a national prevention fund, and invests in training for doctors, nurses, and other needed health professionals.
Common belief: The law hurts small businesses.
Actually: The law should help many small businesses a lot. Companies with fewer than 50 employees will get money off their taxes for up to 35 percent of employee health insurance premiums, and in 2014, the tax credits rise up to 50 percent of insurance premiums.
Common belief: The law increases premiums and costs for families.
Actually: Health premiums have been skyrocketing for many years before the law, and this is a major reason for the law being passed. Insurance companies will now have to explain why if they are raise rates, and the reasons will be published on a publicly available website. If insurance companies don't spend most of your premium dollars on health care, they now must send you a rebate at the end of the year.
Common belief: The law hurts Medicare and seniors.
Actually: The law saves $600 million by reducing extra payments to Medicare insurance companies, and actually strengthens Medicare to help seniors afford prescription drugs, get annual checkups with no co-pays and to make Medicare work better for seniors and doctors.
Common belief: We can't afford Obamacare.
Actually: The law does not simply add expense but replaces costs that we already pay that have been going through the roof for years. The law extends coverage, promotes access to the right care, in the right place, and at the right time. This is one way the Affordable Care Act was designed to save money by keeping people healthier.
Common belief: The law is too complicated to understand.
Actually: The basic facts are simple. Thirty-two million more American citizens will be insured. There will be help for those who cannot afford coverage. Most insurance company abuses will end. We will start building a system that improves quality and controls cost for all of us.
If you want to be informed, visit HealthCare.gov, an easy-to-use web site that explains the law and how it is being rolled out.
Dr. David A. Lynch is a member of the board of trustees of the Whatcom County Medical Society and the Washington Academy of Family Physicians, the leadership board of the Whatcom Alliance for Health Care Advancement and a member of the Washington State Medical Association. He edits a blog about health care reform at drdavelynch.blogspot.com.