President Obama signed into law the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act on March 23, 2010. Critically referred to as “Obamacare” for years by opponents of the law, the ACA continues to make headlines from both major political parties. Despite its early critical use, the nickname for the ACA now stands as a testament to its prime supporter, President Obama, and the people who’ve stood behind it for the past five years. The new law has accomplished a lot in its relatively young life. As the ACA celebrates its fifth birthday this spring, we take a look at the ways in which this radical change in the American healthcare system has impacted everyday life.
Signs of Success
How does the healthcare law look on its fifth anniversary? In essence, the ACA has met or exceeded expectations in terms of its primary goals of affordability, quality and access. More people now have access to better healthcare, and more families can sign up for insurance than ever before. At the close of the second open enrollment period, the government reported that nearly 12 million people have enrolled in a qualified health plan thanks to the new law. This brings the number of uninsured people down to fewer than 30 million, which is just 12.9 percent of the total population.
People with pre-existing conditions, middle age Americans and lower income families also have access to health insurance and have been using this access to take advantage of routine trips to the doctor, specialty care and other treatments that enable them to enjoy healthier lives. Premium costs have gone up, but they haven’t risen as dramatically as opponents predicted. Nationwide, healthcare costs are at the lowest increase since anyone started keeping track. Insurance companies have also jumped on board the marketplace bandwagon by offering competitive plans to consumers.
Continued Arguments and Debates
Despite signs of success and the continued support for the ACA, there are some holdouts who insist that the law will eventually fail. Republicans in general have long objected to the national healthcare system proposed and implemented by the president, and they remain as staunchly committed to their cause today as they were in 2010. In an article on the inaccurate predictions made by ACA opponents over the past five years, MSNBC.com cites ten arguments that still make the headlines today. Among these are general predictions such as the fact that Americans wouldn’t sign up for insurance under Obamacare and that the economy would tank as a result of the new law. Neither prediction came true.
Conservatives and those against the ACA continue to find arguments in favor of repealing it. This summer, the Supreme Court will rule on perhaps the biggest challenge to Obamacare since it got off the ground: King v. Burwell. Plaintiffs in the case argue that the text of the law prohibits federal subsidies from being awarded to people in states that don’t offer their own state-run health insurance exchange sites. Defendants counter that argument by saying that the spirit of the law includes all marketplaces and that federal subsidies were clearly intended for all low- to moderate-income families.
As Obamacare Gets Older
Even if the Supreme Court rules in favor of the plaintiffs, the new law won’t crumble as quickly or as assuredly as opponents would like. A straightforward amendment to the text of the ACA would eliminate the confusion over its meaning. In states like California, which offers its own state-run exchange, the Supreme Court ruling would have little to no effect. Those who debate the semantics of the law will find shaky ground on which to build a case for repeal. Still, challengers keep trying despite evidence that the new law is working.
The Huffington Post pointed out back in March that “studies of previous coverage expansions suggest that as more people get insurance, they will be more financially secure and, over the long run, less likely to die.” In other words, Obamacare promises to improve the lives of those it serves by giving people access to better health insurance and better care by extension. That the ACA will live to see its 10th birthday seems likely, but the law may not look the same as it does today. New laws often require a probationary period to see how well they function in the real world.
The Congressional Budget Office continues to adjust its estimates on how much the law will cost and how successful it will be by the time it’s fully implemented, and we’ve only scratched the surface of how much of an impact Obamacare will make on the country. While all signs point to the continued success of the ACA, there may need to be adjustments made as the healthcare industry and the nation as a whole evolve over the next five years.