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Health care law has already helped millions

By Kathleen Sebelius

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
April 10, 2012

http://www.jsonline.com/news/opinion/health-care-law-has-already-helped-millions-9s4umce-146903735.html.

I'm visiting the Washington Park Senior Center in Milwaukee on Wednesday to meet with local seniors and hear about how the 2010 health care law, the Affordable Care Act, is making a difference in their lives. Since the health care law took effect, millions of Americans already have begun to benefit. And that's especially true for seniors. Here are a few ways that the law is helping Wisconsin seniors.

First, Medicare now covers recommended preventive services such as flu shots and bone-density scans with no co-pays or deductibles.

Before the health care law, too many seniors had to go without critical preventive care because they couldn't afford the co-pay. Now, preventive services, such as mammograms and colonoscopies, are available to seniors at no cost. An annual wellness visit is free, too, giving seniors an opportunity to sit down with their doctors and talk about their care. Last year, nearly 648,000 people with Medicare in Wisconsin took advantage of this benefit.

Second, seniors are getting cheaper prescription drugs. In the past, as many as one in four seniors went without a prescription every year because he or she couldn't afford it. Today, if you're in the prescription drug coverage gap known as the "doughnut hole," you receive a 50% discount on covered brand-name drugs automatically when you fill your prescription.

Already, 5.1 million people with Medicare, including over 59,000 in Wisconsin, have saved billions of dollars. Going forward, the doughnut hole will get smaller each year, as the discounts continue and your Part D plan starts to cover more costs. And by 2020, the doughnut hole will be closed.

Third, we're putting money back into the Medicare Trust Fund and strengthening it for the future by fighting fraud. The law has given us some of the strongest tools in history to stamp out fraud and keep criminals from targeting our health care system, including stronger penalties for criminals. In total, our anti-fraud efforts recovered more than $4 billion last year, an increase of nearly 60% since 2009, sending a clear message that defrauding and stealing from taxpayers will not be tolerated.

Fourth, we're helping doctors and hospitals share their best methods for improving their patients' health. Simple changes such as following up with a patient after she's been discharged from the hospital or helping doctors communicate with one another using electronic health records can make a huge difference. And we're working to help best practices like these spread to every corner of the country, so that everyone has access to the best care possible, no matter where they live.

Here's the best news: Even as Medicare is getting stronger, many beneficiaries have seen their premiums fall. Medicare Advantage premiums have dropped 7% since last year, and enrollment has risen about 10%. And thanks to the law, the average Medicare beneficiary is expected to save about $4,000 over the next 10 years.

Since the Affordable Care Act became law two years ago, millions of seniors have benefited from these improvements. They have seen, in their own lives, the impact of a Medicare program that is strong today and getting stronger.

Kathleen Sebelius is U.S Secretary of Health and Human Services.