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Lessons Learned From the Affordable Care Act

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Yesterday one of the committees on which I serve, the Senate Finance Committee, held a hearing on the lessons learned from the first year of implementing of our comprehensive health care reform law, the Affordable Care Act. This is a welcome opportunity to take a step back and take a look at the impact of this historic legislation over the course of its first year, and specifically focus on the new law's programs to improve our health care system for all Americans, especially our seniors.

Since the Affordable Care Act was signed into law last spring, I have traveled across the First State talking to my constituents about our new health care reform law. From Dover, to Wilmington, to Rehoboth, I often heard the same questions and concerns, particularly from seniors who fear that the new law will reduce their Medicare benefits.

I hope the information discussed during this hearing will help to correct some of the myths about the law and highlight the increased benefits that Americans are already experiencing as a result of the Affordable Care Act. Many Delawareans, and most Americans, are unaware of many of the law's benefits that have already gone into effect.

In particular, the Affordable Care Act contains many provisions that make health insurance more accessible, more affordable, and more dependable. For example, small businesses can receive tax credits that represent up to 35 percent of the cost of providing insurance coverage to their employers. The tax credit provides $40 billion for small companies over the next 10 years. In addition, young adults will be able to stay on their parents' insurance plans until their 26th birthday. New health insurance plans are also banned from placing lifetime limits on the amount of health insurance, so over 500,000 Delawareans and all Americans can rest assured that they will have health insurance coverage when they need it the most.

Seniors are also receiving significant new benefits in Medicare. For instance, thousands of Medicare beneficiaries in Delaware have received a one-time, tax free $250 rebate to help pay for prescriptions in the "doughnut hole" coverage gap. Moreover, seniors who now enter the Medicare Part D doughnut hole will get a 50 percent discount on brand-name drugs and a 7 percent discount on generic drugs. Delaware's 140,000 Medicare beneficiaries will receive preventive services, such as screenings for diabetes, cancer, heart disease, cognitive screenings, and an annual wellness visit without having to pay copayments, coinsurance, or deductibles.

I also want to highlight the new tools the law provides to better protect tax payer dollars by curbing waste, fraud and abuse in Medicare and Medicaid. Earlier this month my subcommittee on Federal Financial Management held a hearing the steps that have been taken through the Affordable Care Act, and other steps that could be taken to curb waste and fraud. For example, the new health care law expands the use of Recovery Audit Contractors, which has already recovered over $1 billion taxpayer dollars through a small pilot program. As part of that hearing we had Mrs. Helen Carson, a resident of New Castle, Delaware, come and share her experiences working with the Senior Medicare Patrol, an organization that works directly with seniors in Delaware to identify fraud. Clearly we've made some important progress in curbing waste, fraud, and abuse in these programs over the past year, although more remains to be done.

Nearly one year later, the Affordable Care Act clearly is a significant step forward in our effort to improve health care for all Americans, but as we all know there is no such thing as a perfect law and my colleagues and I will continue to look for ways to work with the Administration to continue to improve and strengthen our health care reform efforts. Moving forward, I will remain focused on improving our health care system, extending high quality health care to all Americans, and getting better health care outcomes while lowering costs. I urge my colleagues to continue working with me to improve the health reform law and our health care system. While the health reform law is not written in stone, today's hearing offered us another important opportunity to work with the Administration to strengthen the law and by extension, further improve our health care system. As I like to say, if it isn't perfect, make it better.