Health Care Reform One Year Later

When the National Education Association asked its members recently to tell Congress how the government can help students get a good education, some didn’t write about the 3 R’s or anything else that students actually learn in school.

They wrote about something more basic, something that can determine whether a student is in any condition to learn at all: health care.

“Please do your best to see that school children have access to free or reduced cost basic medical care, including vaccinations, dental care, vision care, and urgent care,” wrote Lisa Wintner, an English as a Second Language teacher in Calabasas, CA.

“Students whose basic health needs are neglected because of financial need are at a strong disadvantage in the classroom.”

Several writers asked Congress not to repeal the new health reform law, formally known as the “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act,” which turns one tomorrow on March 23.

By 2014, the Affordable Care Act is expected to put affordable health insurance within reach of all Americans through a health insurance marketplace that will be set up in most states. That marketplace will work like the airline ticket sites that help travelers find their best options.

But even in its first year, the new law has improved the lives of millions.

Take David Gregory and his wife Donna, both secondary school teachers in Indiana.

Their adult son has asthma and has needed inhalers since he was three. He got a job after graduating from high school rather than going straight on to college. That knocked him off his parents’ insurance plan. His job has no health insurance but with the new law, he’s back on his parents’ plan. The law lets parents keep children on their family plans until they are 26.

Pennsylvania high school English teacher Rich Appel hasn’t yet gotten the relief for his son promised under the new law, but he will in July. “My son, who is 21, working in a low-level job in an auto shop, does not have health insurance. I have not been able to afford monthly HMO coverage for even catastrophic insurance for him.

“I am terrified at the prospects of his remaining uninsured,” says Appel. What could we do if he does get in an accident or comes down with an illness. Will all of our savings, small as they are, be taken?”

Appel’s son is eligible to be on his father’s health insurance under the new law. The only hitch is, the school district says he has to wait until the annual “open enrollment” period in July. Hopefully, his son will make it that far safely.

Nationwide, 3.4 million young adults who did not have insurance before are now eligible because of this provision.

The Affordable Care Act also prohibits health insurers from denying coverage for children under 19 due to pre-existing medical conditions—one of the most devastating industry practices since the children denied coverage were those who needed it most.

In its first year, the new law also:

  • Eliminated lifetime dollar benefit limits, and started phasing out annual dollar limits.
  • Helped employers maintain coverage for retirees who are not yet eligible for Medicare.
  • Provided Medicare beneficiaries with a $250 rebate check when they hit the Medicare Part D prescription drug “donut hole.”
  • Required that insurance companies stop cancelling coverage when people get sick.

That’s just the down payment from a law that takes a giant step toward giving Americans peace of mind about how they will pay for health care. But opponents have not given up in their efforts to stop the law from continuing on its path to expanded insurance coverage and an end to abusive industry practices.

Republican leaders in Congress are determined to undermine the law. In January, the House of Representatives voted 245-189 to repeal the entire law – a move that was rejected by the U.S. Senate. Now the House will soon be introducing legislation to block funding for staff positions needed to carry out its provisions. In addition, legal challenges to the constitutionality of the law, prompted by lawsuits in a number of states, are pending in court.

“Our children will be the big losers if these states ultimately are successful in their challenge to the Affordable Care Act,” NEA President Dennis Van Roekel said. “The ACA puts health care within the reach of millions of Americans living just above the poverty level, many of whom are students in our classrooms. A great public school for every student is only achievable if students come to school healthy and ready to learn.”

Learn more about how you can support the Affordable Care Act.