National Partnership for Women & Families

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From the desk of ... Debra L. Ness

Six Months After Health Reform There is Much to Celebrate...And Lots of Work Ahead

Six months ago today, President Obama signed the health care bill into law. And with his signature, our health care system was opened up for renovation. But, like any remodeling job, we've got a long way to go before the final product will be ready for a ribbon cutting ceremony.

So, why is the six month anniversary of the Affordable Care Act important? Because today some key provisions in the law go into effect - and that means it's time to take stock of where we are and where we're going. Meaningful implementation of the health reform law - implementation that focuses on what's best for patients and families - in the months and years ahead is critical. But there is already much to celebrate.

Consider that we've already seen important patient protections put into place so that insurance companies can't deny or drop your coverage based on your age, gender, or pre-existing conditions. And, starting now, any new private health plans will cover the full cost of preventive health services like cancer screenings. On January 1st, cost-sharing for preventive services under Medicare will be eliminated. This means people will be able to access the most basic health care - the kind of care that can help identify disease early or prevent it altogether.

Today we can also celebrate the first steps towards improving care coordination and rewarding good primary care. The Afffordable Care Act increases payment for primary care providers in Medicare and Medicaid which will help ensure that patients have better access to primary and preventive care. The law also lays the groundwork for improving coordination of care by testing new and innovative approaches to delivering health care to promote higher quality, improve communication and collaboration among providers, ensure safer and smoother transitions when patients move across different settings of care, and provide more time, support and information for patients and family caregivers. It also supports medication management services to reduce adverse interactions and medication errors — which will especially help patients and families who are managing multiple chronic conditions.

These improvements, coupled with the funding for improving health care through better health information technology (IT) under the stimulus package passed in January of 2009, will create better patient outcomes and reduce costly duplication and waste.

And just as these new policies are being put into place, longer-term strategies required by the new law are being developed and rolled out. Just last week, the Obama Administration issued a core element for the implementation of health reform: a national strategy for health care quality improvement. The National Partnership for Women & Families and the Campaign for Better Care are at the table and ready to help shape this important strategy to make sure it truly meets the needs of patients and consumers. In the end, we're hopeful that this new plan will help reduce health disparities, increase positive health outcomes, and improve patient and caregiver experiences in the health care system.

We're off to a good start, but our efforts to make the health care system work for patients and families are just beginning. When doctors can spend enough time with their patients - and when they talk to each other to manage our care better - we will all benefit. We will be less likely to experience bad drug interactions or unnecessary and duplicate tests. Our medical records will be at our fingertips - and available to our health care providers so that they have the whole picture when treating us. We will be less likely to suffer from preventable medical errors that can result in injury or even death. And we won't have to fend for ourselves or our loved ones in an uncoordinated and fragmented system.

These things are the foundation of a good health care system and, ultimately, a healthy population. It will take some time - as any renovation does - but in the end it will finally get us to a health care system that delivers the comprehensive, coordinated, high quality care that everyone deserves.


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