WASHINGTON - One of the Senate's first significant votes of the year was on an attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act, the health insurance reform that became law last year. I believe the attempt to repeal it stemmed from a number of myths about the law.
Some opponents said the new law amounts to a "government takeover" of health care. Some said it violates the Constitution. Others said it will cut the benefits on which Medicare recipients depend, or will explode the deficit, or will kill jobs.
If such a law existed, I'd want to repeal it too. Thankfully, the Affordable Care Act does none of those things.
Sen. Carl Levin
This law does not take over the health care system; it strengthens and protects our existing private health insurance system. The independent fact checkers at Politifact.com found that the law "is, at its heart, a system that relies on private companies and the free market," and called the claim that government would take over the system Politifact's "Lie of the Year."
The new law does not violate the Constitution. Opponents claim that the law violates the Constitution because it requires citizens to purchase insurance. Under their arguments, many other programs, including Medicare, would also violate the Constitution. Perhaps that is what these opponents believe, but it is emphatically not what most Americans believe, and it is contrary to decades of legal precedent.
This law does not reduce care for Medicare beneficiaries. In fact, most Medicare recipients already enjoy expanded benefits under the Affordable Care Act. Medicare beneficiaries now receive preventive care such as annual check-ups with no out-of-pocket costs; and starting last year this law began to shrink the "donut hole" that hits so many seniors with significant drug costs. The law strengthens Medicare by beginning to rein in the enormous costs that threaten to swamp the system in coming years, and it does so by encouraging efficiency and reducing waste and abuse.
The Affordable Care Act does not explode the deficit. The independent, nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office found that repeal of the Affordable Care Act would increase the deficit by $143 billion over the first decade and by significantly more in the years to follow. It was ironic in the extreme that members of Congress who say they want to reduce the deficit would try to add $143 billion to that deficit as their first major action of the year.
This law does not kill jobs. Again, independent observers have dismissed this claim as patently false. The independent FactCheck.org called the claim "exaggerated and misleading" and said the law's opponents have "badly misrepresented" findings by the Congressional Budget Office in making their arguments.
Here's what the Affordable Care Act does, in fact, do.
This law protects Americans from abuses by insurance companies, such as denial of coverage for pre-existing conditions or gender.
It allows parents to keep children covered under their insurance plan until age 26. It requires that coverage include preventive care at no out-of-pocket cost. It limits the unilateral power of insurance companies to arbitrarily impose annual or lifetime coverage limits. Those arbitrary limits have forced families to choose between much-needed care and bankruptcy.
Families will be protected from unexplained premium increases, and they will get clear, easy-to-read summaries of their options. Small businesses will receive tax credits to help them provide affordable insurance coverage to their workers. And insurance companies will be prevented from rescinding coverage when patients need it most - when they get sick.
This law is sensible, moderate reform that in the coming years will make health insurance more affordable and secure for those who have it today, and make affordable coverage available for millions of Americans who are now without it. It will reduce the deficit, protect the Medicare benefits that seniors depend on now and in the future, and help families afford the insurance coverage they need.
It was good for Michigan and the nation that this important law's opponents failed in their efforts to repeal it.
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Carl Levin is the senior U.S. senator from Michigan.