Saturday, March 23rd marks the 3rd anniversary of the health reform law, the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Like any 3-year-old, the law is growing and evolving and has not reached its full potential. However, even in its early years the ACA has benefited people with heart disease and stroke and many of the law’s most helpful protections will be available in the very near future.
How is the law helping patients and families today? Approximately 88 million Americans have received at least one preventive screening or service with no cost-sharing in the last two years – these are tests that are helping to identify disease in its early and most treatable stages or services, like tobacco cessation , that can reduce the risk for heart disease or stroke. In addition, about 130,000 Americans with pre-existing medical conditions have gained comprehensive insurance coverage through the Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan. More than 3 million young adults, including young people born with congenital heart defects, have kept or gained coverage by remaining on their parents’ health plans until age 26. Also, 150 million Americans with private insurance coverage now have access to a new tool, called the Summary of Benefits and Coverage, which provides a short, uniform description of their insurance coverage in plain language to make it easier to understand their health plan and compare coverage options.
That’s not all. More than 6 million Medicare beneficiaries have saved nearly $6 billion on their prescription drugs, including $800 million in savings in 2012 alone on medications that help lower their cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels and prevent heart attacks and strokes. There is also evidence that reforms intended to improve the quality and value of care are beginning to work. Medicare costs grew at historically low levels for each of the last 3 years, and health care costs overall grew slower than the overall economy for the first time in more than a decade. That translates into lower than projected health care premiums for millions of Americans.
While these are all helpful changes, the most valuable parts of the law for patients with heart disease or stroke will not go into effect until the end of this year. Starting January 1st, people with pre-existing medical conditions will no longer be denied coverage or charged higher premiums. For those who need health insurance, new health insurance marketplaces will open October 1st of this year to provide a one-stop place to compare and buy coverage. The private health plans offered through these marketplaces must provide comprehensive coverage for doctors’ visits, hospital care, prescription drugs, rehabilitation and habilitation services, and other needed care. Finally, financial assistance may be available through the marketplaces, depending on income, to help make premiums affordable. In short, these new marketplaces coupled with the new insurance protections mean that Americans will not lose access to affordable health insurance coverage if they lose their job, switch jobs, or start a new business.
No law is perfect, and health reform is a work in progress. Nevertheless, increased access to coverage, more emphasis on prevention and wellness, and improved quality of care are steps in the right direction. The American Heart Association/American Stroke Association will continue to work every day to ensure that the needs of patients are met as health reform moves forward.
(**Today's blog post is written by Stephanie Mohl, a Government Relations Manager for the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association. She works in our Office of Federal Advocacy in Washington, DC.)