Time to stop denying Affordable Care Act

Posted Jan. 08, 2011, at 12:20 a.m.

The Affordable Care Act, enacted in March, has already begun to deliver enormous benefits to Maine seniors and promises even greater improvements to their health care in the future. It strengthens Medicare’s fiscal outlook, reduces out-of-pocket expenses, expands and improves programs important to Maine seniors, establishes tough new measures to reduce administrative expenses, root out fraud and abuse, and assure that funds increase patient care, not corporate profit.

In short, the Affordable Care Act is doing exactly what it was created to do: Make health care more affordable to all Americans. This is why I am urging Gov. Paul LePage to put “people before politics” and protect this landmark legislation.

Each year, thousands of Maine seniors, already living on fixed incomes, are forced to chose between food or prescription drugs because of what is called a “doughnut hole” or “coverage gap” in their Medicare plan. The Affordable Care Act closes that gap. Last year, the act provided $250 rebate checks to 45,000 Maine seniors who would otherwise not be able to afford their brand name prescription drugs. In 2011, the Affordable Care Act will cut doughnut hole costs in half and eliminate the doughnut hole entirely by 2020.

For more than 250,000 Maine seniors, the act eliminates out-of-pocket expenses for preventive care, including cancer and diabetes screenings. In addition, the ACA puts an end to lifetime caps on benefits. This is critically important to seniors and those with chronic illnesses who might otherwise lose coverage just because they exceeded an arbitrary coverage limit.

The Affordable Health Care Act also guarantees access for all Medicare recipients to a free annual wellness examination and funds community health teams to provide seniors the patient-centered care they need.

The benefits the Affordable Care Act put in place play an essential role in lowering the cost of health care for all Americans. They foster coordination among health care providers to improve the quality of care, reduce preventable hospitalizations and avoid harm stemming from ineffective communication and uncoordinated treatment regimens.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has found that the Affordable Care Act will reduce the federal deficit by $100 billion during the next decade. It also will ensure the solvency of the Medicare Trust until at least 2029. These savings also will enable seniors to realize future savings on their premiums and co-payments.

In 2014, the ACA introduces additional protections for Medicare Advantage Plan members. These new measures will curb unreasonable insurance company profits and reduce the amount these plans can spend on administrative costs or anything other than health care. President Barack Obama has further pledged to reduce Medicare fraud by 50 percent by 2012.

The ACA contains many reforms we have already instituted in Maine, leveling the playing field with states that have not provided similar protections to their residents. Maine has made tremendous strides toward extending coverage and now ranks sixth in the nation for the percentage of population with health insurance — only 9.6 percent of Maine’s population is uninsured, compared to 15.4 percent nationally.

United Health Foundation recently ranked Maine the eighth-healthiest state.

Maine seniors recognize that they will benefit when Maine’s economy prospers as the ACA extends coverage to the uninsured and provides tax credits that will relieve the burden on small businesses struggling to provide insurance for their employees.

Unfortunately, special interest groups and their allies in the new Congress are bent on repealing or blocking the ACA. The Maine Heritage Policy Center and others intent on scoring political points, not improving health care, are calling on Maine’s new attorney general to join in the misguided effort to overturn the law in the courts. This ideology-driven effort will not improve health care in Maine, but it will saddle Maine taxpayers with an estimated $400,000 in legal fees at a time of enormous budget challenges.

Seniors and all Mainers will be better served if we channel our energies toward implementing the ACA, making sure Mainers fully realize its benefits and putting the health of our residents ahead of politics and profits. It’s time to stop trying to deny care and join together to make this landmark legislation work for all Mainers.

John Carr is president of the Maine Council of Senior Citizens.

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