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Celebrating the Affordable Care Act's Anniversary and Achievements

Commentary
March 22, 2011By Janet Bauer

One year after its historic enactment, federal health reform is making a real difference to real people here in Oregon.

While some key elements of the Affordable Care Act will unfold in the years ahead, the Act has already begun to improve matters for Oregon kids, young adults, seniors, small businesses and anyone who has health insurance.

Because of the Affordable Care Act, insurance companies can no longer discriminate against children who have a serious or chronic health problem. That means, for example, that a child with asthma can no longer be told that she can’t get insurance because of her condition or that her premium will be higher because of it. Instead, she now has access to the same private market coverage at the same price offered to other children.

How significant is that change in the law for Oregon? Consider that about 60,000 Oregon children — more than the number of kids enrolled in Portland Public Schools — suffer from a pre-existing condition. The Affordable Care Act now protects all those children against discrimination.

Young adults are also better protected today. Along with cakes and presents, the 19th birthday for many young people meant being dropped from their parents’ health insurance coverage. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, young adults can remain covered up to age 26, as they work to establish themselves in the world.

At the other end of the age spectrum, seniors enrolled in Medicare are now eligible for free screening and preventive services for many life-threatening and chronic conditions, such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes, thanks to the Affordable Care Act.

The Affordable Care Act also has begun to make medications more affordable for many seniors. It does this by starting to close the gap in coverage — the infamous “doughnut hole” — in Medicare’s prescription drug benefit program by discounting the cost of medicines for seniors in the doughnut hole. In the years to come, the Act will completely close the gap in coverage.

Yet another group reaping the benefits of the Affordable Care Act is Oregon’s small businesses, who typically face higher premiums than large firms do. Businesses with 25 or fewer employees and average annual wages of less than $50,000 now qualify for a tax credit when they provide health insurance to their workers. For now, the credit can amount to as much as 35 percent of employer costs, depending on the number of workers and average wages. In 2014, the maximum credit will increase to 50 percent of an employer’s costs if purchased through an insurance exchange for two years.

The scope of the small business tax credit in Oregon is large indeed. One analysis shows that nearly nine out of every 10 Oregon businesses with 25 or fewer employees qualify for the tax benefit. The tax credits are good for Oregon small businesses and their employees because they contribute to an improved bottom line and encourage firms to continue offering coverage to their workers.

Finally, everyone with health insurance can breathe a bit easier now because the Affordable Care Act prohibits insurers from dropping coverage in the event of a serious illness.

The list of the ways in which the Affordable Care Act is making health care better for Oregonians is longer — and will continue to grow in the years to come, as more of its provisions take effect.

While the final shape of health reform in Oregon will depend, in part, on how the state implements portions of the new law, the Affordable Care Act is already benefiting many individuals and businesses in Oregon who previously were ill-served by health insurance. The Affordable Care Act’s improvements move us closer to health care that is truly affordable, offers quality services and leaves no one behind.


Janet Bauer is a policy analyst with the Oregon Center for Public Policy. For more information about how the Affordable Care Act affects you, visit healthcare.gov.