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Affordable Care Act already helping millions in Florida

By Kathleen Sebelius

Orlando Sentinel
March 23, 2012,0,2224606.story

Today marks the two-year anniversary of the Affordable Care Act. Around the country, the law is already making a difference for millions of Americans.

Here are five key ways it is helping Floridians get the care they need.

First, the law has helped more than 157,000 young Floridians get health insurance. In the past, young people often lost coverage when they graduated from high school or college, and many remained uninsured, running the risk that a sudden illness or car accident would plunge them into bankruptcy.

Now, under the law, many of these young people can stay on their parents' health insurance until age 26, giving them and their families much needed peace of mind.

Second, the law is strengthening Medicare . Preventive services like cancer screenings are now available with no co-pays or deductibles, a benefit more than two and a half million Floridians have already taken advantage of.

And seniors are also saving on their prescription drugs . Last year, more than 238,000 Florida Medicare beneficiaries saved an average of nearly $600 each on their medications thanks to new discounts for those in the coverage gap known as the "doughnut hole."

Third, people in Florida are protected from the insurance industry's worst abuses. As a result of the law's new Patient's Bill of Rights, insurers can no longer cancel your coverage when you get sick because of an error in your paperwork.

And insurers are banned from putting a lifetime cap on the amount of care they'll pay for, a loophole that could make your coverage disappear when you needed it most. This last protection alone has given more than five and a half million Floridians new security.

Fourth, the law is giving Floridians more value for their health-care dollar. The law's new 80-20 rule ensures that insurers must spend at least 80 cents of every premium dollar on health care and quality improvements, not marketing or CEO salaries. If they don't, you get a rebate.

That means more than four million Floridians with private insurance are getting more bang for their buck.

Fifth, the law is ending discrimination based on pre-existing conditions. It's now illegal for insurance companies to deny coverage to children based on their health status.

This is a huge relief for Americans like Dawn Josephson of Jacksonville. When her young son had a serious eye injury, she worried he would be uninsurable. But when she recently applied for coverage, she was overjoyed to learn he could no longer be turned away. And in 2014, Americans of all ages will have this protection.

These are just a few of the ways the law is helping Florida families, and even more improvements will take effect in the months to come. But they provide a partial picture of what's at stake when politicians talk about repealing or overturning the law.

For millions of Florida families, this is not an abstract political debate. It's a conversation about real benefits and protections that they rely on every day.

Some of these benefits, like the ban on discrimination against pre-existing conditions, are ones American families have spent decades fighting to achieve.

Now is not the time to roll back this progress. Instead, we should continue to work to give hard-working families in Florida and around the country the security they deserve.

Kathleen Sebelius is secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.