BREWER, Maine — Though it has proved unpopular with many, proponents of the Affordable Care Act said Tuesday that the reform movement already has expanded Mainers’ access to key medical services.
During a gathering Tuesday morning at the Eastern Maine Labor Council Solidarity Center in Brewer, area residents who have benefited from the act — including small-business owners, senior citizens and young adults — marked its one-year anniversary, which falls on Wednesday.
As Penobscot Community Health Care President Robert Carlson sees it, the reform effort will double the number of Americans receiving services from 20 million to 40 million over the next five years.
“When people are covered, they will access primary and preventive care,” Carlson said. That’s important, he said, because providing access to such services, which include tests and screenings, can result in significant savings over the long haul.
Tuesday’s event was hosted by the Maine chapter of Organizing for America, a grass-roots project of the Democratic National Committee.
“In just one year, millions of Americans have already begun to feel the positive effects of the Affordable Care Act,” Andrew Kain, Maine director of Organizing for America, noted in a news release. “With unprecedented patient protections and benefits, families no longer need to worry that their children could be denied coverage because of a pre-existing condition or that they could be denied critical care after hitting a lifetime limit.
Under provisions of the federal act, seniors now are eligible for free preventive care and wellness visits with their doctor and are paying less out of pocket for prescription drugs, he said.
Though he acknowledged the act isn’t perfect, Carlson said the reforms it calls for are needed.
“My feeling is that there are probably some problems with it. There are going to be bumps on the road. But I am absolutely convinced that we need to move forward with it,” he said.
Caleb Rosser, a former Caribou resident now attending the University of Maine as a political science major, is among 47,000 young adults in Maine who have benefited from the overhaul. When he turned 22 last fall, Rosser said, he was cut off from coverage he had received under his parents’ plan because he aged out.
On Jan. 1, after two months without insurance, Rosser became eligible for four more years of coverage through a provision allowing young adults up to age 26 to stay on their parents’ plans.
For a struggling college student, that has been a godsend, he said.
“One of the biggest things, really, is peace of mind,” Rosser said. With mounting student loans and trying to make do on financial aid, illness easily could mean racking up major medical debt.
“That’s really tough for students to afford,” he said.
Rosser said that perhaps the biggest myth about the Affordable Care Act is that it is the equivalent of government-run health insurance.
“This isn’t a takeover of health care,” Rosser said. Other than the VA hospitals [and medical facilities on military installations], health care is still private. No one has lost their doctor.”
Despite what supporters say, the act faces a constitutional challenge. Maine is among 27 states that are challenging the reform act’s requirement that most Americans buy health insurance by 2014 or face penalties.
Noting Organizing for America’s role in helping to get the act passed, Kain said he and other proponents will continue the fight to “protect the law from Republicans’ partisan and political attempts to defund and repeal it.”
Despite the fact that he joined the legal fight against the Affordable Care Act, Maine Attorney General William Schneider has said that all citizens should have access to good and affordable health care.
“For me, it’s a legal issue,” Schneider said. “I believe, as do most people, that the health care system needs to be fixed, but I don’t want to see it fixed based on an unconstitutional foundation.”