Op/Ed: The Affordable Care Act works

By Joe Sestak


Joe Sestak

I’m reminded that it was five years ago last month that Congress voted the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) into law, promising to control costs and offer better coverage to more Americans.

Back then, many argued that the ACA would be a massive failure with disastrous consequences for our state and bankrupt our nation. They claimed that the law was too expensive, imposing higher costs on us all while giving everyone lousier care – and was bad news for our families, seniors, and small businesses.

Five years later, the facts tell us they were wrong. The ACA, while imperfect, has been a success for our nation’s health security – a conclusion of nonpartisan, objective experts who have crunched the numbers and studied the data.

Those who continue to push for the ACA’s repeal will have to answer to the following facts:

The ACA has made health care less expensive – as promised. Since the ACA became law, the per capita cost of health care has risen only at about 3 percent per year, compared to over 6 percent in the previous eight years. That’s the slowest cost increase in 50 years – a sign that we’re on the right track in making health care more affordable.

Looking ahead, premiums offered on the ACA exchanges are expected to be 15 percent lower in 2016 than we had expected back in 2010, meaning that this will save our government an extra $100 billion over the next decade – money that can go to our schools, infrastructure, plans to make college more affordable, and more help for small businesses.

In fact, in western Pennsylvania, because of the ACA, health care costs are already the second least expensive in the nation.

Lower costs have, in turn, strengthened Medicare for our seniors. The Social Security Administration reported that we have added 13 years of life to the Medicare trust fund, allowing it to remain solvent through 2030. Before the ACA, Medicare was expected to run out of money in just two years. We still need to do more to protect Medicare, but we’re making serious progress.

And that’s not all for seniors – through the ACA’s rebates and discounts to close the “donut hole” gap in Medicare prescription drug coverage, over 8 million seniors and people with disabilities have saved $12 billion since 2010, an average of $1,500 per person. If you live on a fixed income, like many of our seniors, every dollar of these extra savings has meaning.

The ACA has been good for small businesses, too. Through the Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP), mom-and-pop stores can pool together to bid for cheaper plans – a scale advantage that, for too long, only corporations enjoyed. SHOP premiums are 7 percent lower than plans sold elsewhere.

And more important, the ACA has made it possible for Americans to take greater control over their own health care. No longer are life-and-death decisions made by insurance bureaucrats instead of families and doctors.

If you have a “pre-existing condition,” insurance companies cannot deny or drop you from plans. Women can now take better care of their health with free prenatal exams and mammograms – and not have to pay nearly two times as much as men do. If you have a serious illness, like cancer, there is now no limit on your care. And if you change jobs, you can keep your care.

Your children can stay on your health care plan until they are 26, and price discrimination against the elderly is prohibited. If an insurance company fails to spend at least 80 percent of your health care premiums on medical care instead of salaries and bonuses for executives, they must provide customers with refunds.

And finally, the ACA has given more Americans greater health security. Since the official launch of the health exchanges in 2013, 12 million Americans have purchased health insurance, demonstrating a strong demand and need for health coverage. The rate of uninsured Americans has dropped to 13.8 percent in 2014 – a historic low.

For me, though, reforming our health care system was more than just a policy debate. It was personal. At age 4, my daughter Alex was diagnosed with aggressive brain cancer and given a single-digit chance of survival.

Alex is now 13 and was the one who originally inspired me to walk in your shoes across Pennsylvania. The health insurance plan that the Navy offered gave my family a chance to fight hard and overcome the odds to beat this terrible illness. TRICARE did not drop my daughter’s coverage just because she had cancer.

Every American should have access to that kind of quality, affordable care.


Joe Sestak is a former Navy admiral and U.S. congressman (PA-07), and is a candidate for the U.S. Senate.

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