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Affordable Health Care Act: Demystifying "Obamacare"

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I must say I have been a bit frightened lately by this thing called "Obamacare." I always hear that it's going to kill jobs, gut Medicare, and tear up the constitution. It just sounds horrible!

But I've had trouble finding any legislation by the name "Obamacare." Perhaps everyone is talking about President Obama's Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Is that it?

Nearly two years ago, President Obama signed into law the Affordable Care Act, which will deliver care to over 30 million uninsured Americans. Conservatives quickly declared war, calling it an unconstitutional, job-killing, government take-over by a radical socialist who "thinks he's smarter than you."

In fact, the Affordable Care Act is one of the most groundbreaking pieces of legislation in American history. Unfortunately, it has been subject to some extremely ruthless attacks that turn out to be, well, false.

Let's begin with basics. The Affordable Care Act will extend care to 32 million Americans who are roaming the streets uninsured, ready to have their lives turned upside down by a measly infection. The law also prohibits insurance companies from denying care for individuals with preexisting conditions -- an outright abuse of the entire health care system.

The bill also includes an infamous, so-called "individual mandate," which will require everyone to purchase care or face a fine, with some exceptions for the poorest Americans. Conservatives argue that any mandate requiring Americans to buy something must be unconstitutional.

They must have forgotten that we already require Americans to pay for Medicare and Social Security. They also forgot that buying health insurance does not simply happen in a vacuum -- it's not like buying a pack of gum. Choosing not to purchase insurance is an economic decision that affects us all. When individuals without insurance seek medical care, those with insurance have to pick up the cost -- an estimated $43 billion in 2008. The fact is, humans require health care, and it is unfair to have some contribute and some not. We recognized that with Medicare, and it should be the same for all other forms of care.

And assuming you have any ethical standards and agree that insurance companies should not be permitted to deny care to those with preexisting conditions, the mandate becomes crucial. Without the mandate, people would simply wait to get sick and then purchase insurance, knowing that the provider could not deny them care or charge them higher premiums. That would lead to exponentially higher premiums for everyone. Doesn't sound like a smart plan to me.

Perhaps the best part of the bill is that it reduces the overall cost of health care, mainly through three methods. First, it brings everyone into the health care system, so insured Americans are no longer paying for the care of uninsured Americans. Second, it puts in place the Medical Loss Ratio Rule, which requires insurance companies to spend 80 percent of premium dollars on actual health care, instead of administration, advertising, or salaries. Finally, it strengthens Premium Review Laws, which will make sure that every premium increase is justified and fair, doing away with skyrocketing costs with no improvement of care.

Overall, the bill will actually significantly reduce the federal deficit over the next two decades and save families thousands of dollars a year in premiums. So yes, Republicans, "Obamacare" does cost a lot of money, but it actually saves money in the long run. And yes, it does include hundreds of billions of dollars in cuts to Medicare, but those cuts are made possible by lower health care costs. In fact, Medicare is very much strengthened by the Affordable Care Act.

Finally, and Republicans love this one, the Affordable Care Act is often called a massive job-killer. Actually, according to a study by Business Roundtable, when the Affordable Care Act is fully implemented in 2019, employers will save roughly $3,000 a year in health care costs for every employee. That's a lot of extra cash to grow, become more competitive, and, hmm, create jobs. In fact, one Harvard economist estimates that repealing the law could cause us to lose up to four million jobs by 2019. So, wait, who's killing the jobs?

So what exactly is "Obamacare"? Well, I'll give Republicans the benefit of the doubt, and say it's just a complete myth created to attack the President. That's fine, and they can go ahead and repeal their hypothetical bill. But I'm talking about the Affordable Care Act, and maybe it's time we all do.

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