Obamacare Is Making A Real Difference In People’s Lives. A Lot Of Research Proves It

by LAUREL RAYMOND –

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Six years after passing through the House and Senate without receiving a single Republican vote, the Affordable Care Act (popularly known as Obamacare) remains a hotly contested piece of legislation. But outside of the political arena, there’s much less debate.

A mountain of evidence confirms the law’s effectiveness — particularly in its primary goal of expanding health care coverage to some of America’s neediest populations. Several recent studies have confirmed that Obamacare is positively affecting Americans, particularly those who previously couldn’t obtain health insurance or who struggled to pay their medical bills.

Here’s how Obamacare is making a real difference in Americans’ lives:

America’s most vulnerable now have health insurance

In the years since Obamacare passed, many of the largest gains in coverage rates have been in communities that have previously faced barriers to health care access — such as low-wage workers, immigrants, people of color, and people with pre-existing medical conditions.

Between 2013 and 2014, when the law went into full effect, every minority group saw large gains in coverage. According to an analysis by the New York Times. Now, 7.2 more Hispanics, 6.1 percent more Native Americans, 5.1 percent more blacks and 5.4 percent more Asians have health insurance.

Legal immigrants and naturalized citizens also saw large increases in coverage, as did groups that are more likely to be working low-wage jobs, such as high-school graduates and Americans living in non-traditional households, which can be a sign of economic distress.

Indeed, the law was so successful in lifting up undeserved populations that it stopped a decades-long expansion of the health-insurance gap between low-income and wealthier Americans.

And the people gaining coverage under the Affordable Care Act are among America’s sickest, according to a different report from Blue Cross and Blue Shield that analyzed the claims for 4.7 million Americans newly enrolled in insurance plans. New policy holders are more likely to have significant health problems, such as diabetes or HIV, which previously would have locked them out of coverage that they desperately needed.

“It’s no surprise that people who newly gained access to coverage under the Affordable Care Act needed health care. That’s why they were locked out of coverage before,” said Ben Wakana, a spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services.

People with new health insurance are better off

According to a report from the Urban Institute’s Health Policy Center, Americans who have new health insurance through Obamacare — either through its state-level insurance marketplaces or through its expansion of Medicaid — are better off than the uninsured and in many areas comparable to those with employer-sponsored insurance plans.

Low and moderate-income Americans with marketplace and Medicaid coverage are more likely than the uninsured to have a source of medical care and to have had a checkup in the past year. They are also less likely than the uninsured to report unmet health needs, such as visits to specialists they haven’t been able to make it to.

The research also found that in most cases, marketplace plans were comparable to the employer-sponsored plans that existed before health reform. People insured through Obamacare didn’t struggle more to find new doctors or get timely appointments compared to people insured through their employers. Those with Obamacare’s marketplace plans were also no more likely to report problems paying medical bills or having high out-of-pocket expenses, and were just as satisfied with their premiums.

Those with employer plans were, however, more likely to be satisfied with their choice of providers and their protection against high deductibles, likely because employer plans usually resemble the highest level of marketplace plan.

And while those with Medicaid did report more difficulty getting doctors appointments than those with other types of plans, all groups with insurance were significantly better off than the uninsured — and were likely to have both regular care and lower levels of unmet need due to costs.

Poor Americans are more financially secure

The law has also helped people pay down their bills and slash the amount of debt they carry, according to another paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Americans who signed up for the Medicaid program under Obamacare’s expansion reduced their collection balances by $600 to $1000, according to the researchers. The report also shows that the people who benefited from Medicaid expansion then used that extra money to pay down other debts.

“Health insurance, like any type of insurance, is first and foremost a form of financial protection,” economist Robert Kaestner, one of the study’s authors, told The Washington Post. “It is a real benefit.”

According to federal data, medical bills count for more than half of Americans’ unpaid bills, which can drag down people’s credit scores and in the long run, cost them both money and opportunity. Reducing debt can thus have a ripple effect on financial well-being for years into the future.

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Of course, the effect of health reform varies widely across the country. The most marked improvements are evident in states that fully implemented Obamacare, including its expansion of Medicaid to cover more low-income people.

Nineteen states opted not to expand their Medicaid programs — even though the majority of the cost would be covered by the federal government — after a 2012 Supreme Court case made the expansion optional. States that fully implemented the health care reform law saw an increase in residents with health insurance at nearly double the rate of the GOP-controlled states that didn’t.

 

Reprinted with permission from Think Progress, a branch of The Center for American Progress