January 28, 2011
On Tuesday, President Barack Obama outlined a plan to help America win the future. But some in Congress are still intent on refighting the political battles of the past two years by trying to repeal the health care law, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. With millions of Americans already benefiting from the law, we can't afford to turn back now.
If the law were repealed, as many as 129 million Americans with pre-existing conditions would be vulnerable to being discriminated against by insurers. Any time these individuals changed jobs, retired, got divorced or started a business, they'd have to worry about losing health insurance. By ending the practice of denying coverage to children based on a pre-existing condition -- and extending that protection to all Americans in 2014 -- the health care law is giving Americans the freedom to live their lives without worrying about being shut out of the health insurance market.
The law is also giving families relief from rising health insurance costs. Over the past decade, it was common for families and small-business owners to receive letters from their insurer hitting them with rate hikes of 20 or 30 percent without reason or explanation. This forced families to make hard choices between paying large medical bills or paying for basic needs. Now the law is taking steps to hold premiums down.
We are providing states with new resources to review premium hikes and limit the amount of your premium that insurance companies may spend on profits, marketing and CEO bonuses. And in 2014, many individuals and small-business owners will be eligible for tax credits to help them afford health coverage. We estimate that a family of four earning $55,000 a year will save nearly $6,000 a year, putting coverage within reach for many families for the first time.
But it isn't just families who are worried about rising costs. Health care costs have put a massive strain on U.S. businesses, large and small. For every $1 some American businesses pay for employee health care, their competitors pay 40 cents. These rising costs take away from investments, innovation and job creation.
The Affordable Care Act is already freeing some businesses from skyrocketing premiums and helping other businesses offer coverage for the first time. More than 5,000 businesses, state and local governments and unions are using new funds to maintain coverage for retirees between the ages of 55 and 64 and their families. And 4 million small-business owners learned that they may be eligible for a tax credit to help them provide health insurance for their employees.
These tax credits are already making a difference. For example, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas City recently reported that after letting local businesses know about the new tax credit, they enrolled more than 9,000 new members covered by 400 new employers, more than a third of which had not previously offered coverage.
For decades, health care costs have added trillions of dollars to our deficit. Health costs now make up one-sixth of our nation's economy, a number that will only grow larger without the health law.
Under the law, our department now has new tools to crack down on health care fraud, with tougher screenings for health care providers who want to participate in Medicare and Medicaid and bigger penalties for criminals who get caught. And the law puts an end to wasteful insurer subsidies and invests in the safety and quality of care, making sure we pay for what makes people healthier and stop paying for what doesn't.
Altogether, nonpartisan estimates say the law will reduce our federal deficit by $230 billion over the next decade and by more than $1 trillion by the end of the following decade.
As the president said in his State of the Union address, he's open to any new ideas that will make care better or more affordable. Already there is bipartisan support to change a provision in the bill that has created a bookkeeping burden for small business. Doing away with this makes good sense and will improve our health care system. That's why the president has supported this change for several months.
What we cannot do is go back to a broken status quo, stripping millions of families and small-business owners of new benefits and protections. Undoing these reforms now, just as Americans are starting to get more freedom in their health care choices, would be a huge setback for our country.
If we want to lead the 21st century as we did in the 20th century, we need to move forward, not back.
Kathleen Sebelius is secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.