Back in 2009, when only enemies called it Obamacare, supporters of the Affordable Care Act cited at least a few good things the law might do.
It could slow the cost of health care, they said, not only in terms of the price consumers pay for insurance, but in overall medical care inflation. Mostly, though, the new legislation was about the promise of bringing health insurance to millions who couldn’t get it.
So far, at least, that’s exactly what’s happening. A New York Times analysis Sunday found that in 2014, the first full year of Obamacare, low-wage workers and others saw “historic increases” in insurance coverage.
That includes cooks and waitresses, cashiers and hairdressers – the kind of low-paying and often part-time workers who couldn’t afford insurance premiums. Coverage rates also jumped for minorities, who disproportionately work in those low-wage jobs. Hispanics, who make up just 17 percent of the population, accounted for nearly a third of the increase in adults with insurance, the Times reported.
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Overall, the Affordable Care Act has resulted in about 20 million newly insured adults, according to the administration’s estimate. In other words, Obamacare is doing its job.
You might find that hard to believe if you’ve listened to Republicans in Washington and Republicans on the campaign trail. They’re still vowing to repeal Obamacare, which they insist is a job killer and the cause of out-of-control insurance costs.
But job growth is now the best it’s been in two decades, and health care costs – from Medicare spending per enrollee to family premiums in employer-based coverage – are growing at a slower rate than before Obamacare, according to data from the Kaiser Family Foundation. In fact, the last four years of premiums account for four of the five slowest growth years since 1999.
Health care inflation overall also has slowed, dropping to the lowest level since the government began measuring it more than 50 years ago. In part that’s because of Obamacare reforms like those that have reduced hospital medical errors and costly readmissions.
That doesn’t mean all is rosy with health care. The Congressional Budget Office estimated in January that Obamacare will miss its 2016 enrollment projections, which has insurers nervous about their profits in an already uncertain marketplace.
The CBO also projected an $11 billion increase in Obamacare subsidies in 2016, but that’s mostly because Congress tried to peck away at the ACA by postponing a “cadillac tax” on high-dollar insurance plans and making that tax deductible to employers. Both measures decreased the amount of money Obamacare took in.
Obamacare also has a long way to go in providing universal insurance coverage to Americans, but that’s in part because 19 states – including North Carolina – have declined to expand Medicaid programs for the poor.
Instead, the Republicans who encourage that stubbornness continue to crow about killing the ACA. But even a December Senate bill just partially repealing Obamacare would have resulted in about 22 million additional uninsured Americans long-term, according to the CBO.
Thankfully, we’re seeing the opposite happen. More Americans are enjoying the security of coverage. The health-care gap between the rich and poor is closing, unlike other inequality gaps. Obamacare is working, despite what Republicans say. Someday, perhaps, they’ll decide to help it work better.