Today marks the eighth anniversary of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the most significant piece of healthcare legislation since Medicare was enacted in 1965. Like Medicare, the ACA provides security, peace of mind and comprehensive coverage for millions of Americans every day. The ACA has moved us closer to realizing that fair access to quality healthcare is not just a privilege for the few, but a right for all. In the few years that the ACA has been the law of the land – and it is still the law of the land – access to health coverage in our country has significantly improved.
Twenty million people have gained access to quality coverage through the Marketplace or expanded Medicaid. Consumers with pre-existing health conditions don’t have to worry about being charged more or denied coverage simply because of their health status. Women are no longer forced to pay higher insurance rates because of their sex. Insurers have been prohibited from putting annual or lifetime limits on benefits consumers need to stay as healthy as possible. The ACA also puts consumers first by requiring insurers to cover essential health benefits. These essential health benefits include ambulatory services, emergency services, hospitalization, maternity care, mental health and substance abuse services, prescription drugs, rehabilitative services, laboratory services, preventive and wellness services, and pediatric services.
The ACA strengthened Medicare by providing beneficiaries with preventive services such as cancer screenings with no cost sharing and relief from high prescription drug costs while in the doughnut hole. The law also extended the life of the Medicare Trust Fund and made significant investments in fighting fraud, waste and abuse in the program. There is even a provision of the ACA that protects older consumers who aren’t quite eligible for Medicare. The ACA’s age-based rating ensures that they won’t be charged more than three times what younger people are charged for coverage. An AARP Public Policy Institute paper notes that “this important consumer protection ensures that older adults who are not yet eligible for Medicare have access to affordable health insurance coverage.”
As we celebrate the many successes of the ACA, we must continue to hold the Administration and their Congressional allies accountable for any attempts to undermine our healthcare system. We watched as the Administration cut the last enrollment period in half; slashed funding for enrollment assistance and advertising; refused to participate in enrollment events; shut down healthcare.gov during critical times; and issued regulations to allow the sale of “junk” plans. It’s been reported that the Administration even conditioned its support of legislation to stabilize the Marketplace on it including proposals that will undermine benefits, erode coverage protections and raise premiums for older people – up to five times as much as what younger people pay.
These unfortunate actions come atop of a flurry of legislative activity and legal wrangling in some states that could destabilize the Marketplace and deny people care. As an organization that helps older people and people with disabilities gain fair access to quality health care, the Center for Medicare Advocacy will continue the fight to protect their care.