I was just thinking back to July 2000 when I first joined The Endowment as president and CEO. Uninsured rates had been climbing steadily for years, health disparities had been recognized as a side effect of inadequate access to health care services, among a number of other issues pertaining to equity. And there seemed to be no political will to do anything about it. Advocates were clamoring for attention around these issues to little or no avail.
Yet, here we are in 2012 celebrating the two-year anniversary of the passage into law of the historic Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act (ACA). And indeed this is cause for celebration. Because of the ACA, millions of uninsured Californians will not only have access to the affordable health care they need, they will also be protected from the insurance industry's worst practices.
Though the law does not go into full effect until 2014, many provisions are already helping Californians keep and obtain health coverage, and other health improvement and cost saving options are on the way. And California -- always a leader on progressive issues -- is way ahead of the curve in making health reform a reality to its residents.
Subsequent to the passage of the ACA, California hit the ground running, drafting and passing legislation so that planning for implementation could begin. Notable among these early achievements was establishing California's health benefits exchange -- the one-stop shop for health coverage set to open for business in 2014.
Another win for Californians is that our state leaders worked with the federal government to create a "bridge to reform." The feds agreed to let counties begin enrolling low-income, single individuals who, because of chronic health conditions, need health care now. Many counties have implemented the "bridge to reform," resulting in hundreds of thousands of Californians -- previously not eligible -- getting enrolled in Medi-Cal.
But that's just the beginning. Literally, millions of Californians are now benefiting from the ACA through expanded access to preventive services and most don't even know it. And the state's network of community clinics that provide health care services to millions of Californians each year has received $210 million in funding to help improve and strengthen our safety net. Furthermore, hundreds of thousands of California small businesses are eligible for tax credits to purchase or maintain health insurance for themselves and their employees.
Remember the numerous stories about insurance companies' skyrocketing premiums and canceling of policies when people fell ill? Thanks to the ACA, California now has $5.3 million in resources to crack down on the insurance industry's bad actors who try to unfairly raise health coverage premiums. Furthermore, nearly 20 million Californians with private health insurance no longer have to worry about lifetime limits on their coverage or that they will be canceled if they get sick. Finally, families will have some peace of mind when it comes to their health coverage.
And the good doesn't stop there. Adults with pre-existing conditions can still be turned down for health coverage until 2014, but California has a remedy through the ACA. The Pre-existing Condition Insurance Program (PCIP) -- created with funding from the ACA -- has provided affordable health coverage to more than 8,600 Californians living with serious health conditions for which they were otherwise declined coverage by insurance companies.
And if you're still on the fence about health reform, consider this: Because of the ACA, insurance companies can no longer deny health coverage to children with pre-existing health conditions. That alone helps countless families living under the specter of exorbitant health care bills as a result of their children being denied coverage by insurance companies. Also comforting to parents is that because of the ACA, their children up to the age of 26 can stay on their private health insurance policy.
As a physician with a background in public health, I am especially thrilled with the ACA's focus on prevention. Our current lop-sided system of "sick care" is one of the drivers of health care costs and the ACA has the potential to turn that around if implemented wisely. California was recently awarded $22 million in grants through the ACA to transform community environments so that they support our health instead of perpetuating illness. Obesity is an especially insidious health condition that can be prevented through community health interventions and the ACA provides us with resources to help combat it.
I could go on and on extolling the benefits of the ACA, but let me end with this. The health of California and our nation will benefit greatly due to the impact of this landmark legislation. Though there are those who say otherwise, be not fooled by their rhetoric. If we want to maintain our status as the greatest and most benevolent nation, we must support the health of its citizenry. Failing to do so will lead us down a path of further struggle and strife.
The list of the benefits -- now available and soon to become available -- to Californians through the ACA can be found HERE.