Before the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was signed into law, our health care system regularly failed women and families. High costs forced millions to go without health coverage, or to settle for subpar plans that failed to cover essential health care services like maternity care. Families were forced into bankruptcy because their plans didn’t cover the health care services they needed when they got sick. Insurance companies charged women more than men for the same health plans, denied coverage to people with pre-existing conditions and cancelled health plans when families needed them the most.
Four years after its enactment, the ACA has already helped millions of women and families and it is poised to help millions more. The law has made insurance affordable and accessible to individuals who previously were denied coverage based on their health status and to families that, until now, simply couldn’t afford insurance. In addition to guaranteeing access to coverage, the ACA is improving the quality of health plans by requiring coverage of essential health care services and limiting out-of-pocket costs for preventive care. The law has also started to transform how we provide and pay for care, which will improve health outcomes and lower costs for patients and families over time.
With just over one week left in the ACA’s first open enrollment period, five million people have signed up for quality, affordable health insurance through the new insurance marketplaces. Thanks to the ACA, six in ten uninsured Americans eligible for financial help could be paying less than $100 a month for coverage.
More than four million people have been determined eligible for Medicaid coverage through the federal marketplace (and this number doesn’t even include the additional women and men who have been determined eligible by their state’s Medicaid agencies). If irresponsible governors and state legislatures weren’t playing politics with the health and wellbeing of families, another five million people would be eligible for Medicaid coverage.
With time running out, we all have a responsibility to help our families and friends get covered.
Those who sign up will get quality coverage that includes the ACA’s strong consumer protections. Insurance companies won’t be able to place annual and lifetime limits on essential health benefits and they won’t be able to cancel an enrollee’s coverage if she gets sick. Women and men who enroll before March 31 will have guaranteed coverage of the essential health care services needed to stay healthy and get well, including hospitalizations, maternity and newborn care, mental health care, preventive care and prescriptions. All essential preventive services, including contraceptives, cervical cancer screenings and immunizations, will be covered without cost-sharing.
While the impact of these benefits can be quantified, numbers alone can’t begin to communicate the value of health security. Numbers don’t adequately convey what it means to families to be able to sleep at night without having to worry that if dad loses his job, the family will be uninsured or that if mom gets sick, the family will lose its home. That peace of mind is truly invaluable.
The ACA has already begun improving the lives of women and families across the country, but we still have work to do. While the ACA’s first open enrollment period will result in at least 12 million people gaining health coverage, millions more families will still be without. To mark this ACA anniversary, we should all pledge to keep working until all Americans have access to the quality, affordable health care they deserve.