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The passage of the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was one of the most controversial pieces of legislation to move through Congress since President Obama was elected. Going into the 2012 presidential election season, key parts of the legislation are up for review by the U.S. Supreme Court. Those arguments, and the ongoing rhetoric from the candidates keep health care front and center in the American political debate. Unfortunately, misinformation and myths about what the law has really accomplished are common.
The point of the legislation has been, since its inception, to make healthcare affordable for all consumers and to give them access to fair, cost-effective insurance benefits. Key segments of the population, like people with pre-existing conditions, have been unable to get coverage for years, or, if coverage has been offered, the rates have been priced out of reason. Healthcare costs in the U.S. are higher than anywhere else in the world, yet America lags behind other, less-developed nations in terms of life expectancy and the overall health of its citizenry.
Three in five Americans are overweight, the nation is addicted to fast food, and there is little if any emphasis on preventive care in the prevailing healthcare model. Federal assistance programs like Medicare and Medicaid have been stretched to the breaking point, and more than 40 million Americans continue to live with no health insurance benefits. Consequently, medical debt is the leading cause of personal bankruptcy in the country, accounting for approximately 60 percent of all filings.
Ambitious in its scope, the Affordable Care Act continues to implement reforms to level the playing field, holding insurance companies to more equitable practices like an elimination of all exclusions for pre-existing conditions by 2014. Adult children under the age of 26 may remain on their parents’ policies until age 26, regardless of age or marital status, a vital reform for a young generation also saddled with the highest student loan debt in the nation’s history.
Public attention, however, has tended to focus on one detail of the Affordable Care Act’s reforms, the individual mandate requiring all Americans to carry health insurance by 2014 or face a fine. It is that specific provision at which the Supreme Court is currently looking. If the justices strike down that single provision, it could doom a package that, when taken as a whole, has made significant improvements in the state of healthcare in America.