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Cabinet Heads Voicing Support for Health Insurance Law

Ernie Shannon's picture

A crescendo is building toward the U.S. Supreme Court hearing regarding the nation’s new health care law – the Affordable Care Act. With the hearing only days away, multiple federal agencies are advertising the values and benefits of the law including some, whose mission would seemingly make them an unlikely bullhorn.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today urged the farming community to get behind the law and see for themselves the benefits it provides. He said the law is building a stronger health system in rural communities.

While the health care law is still a year-and-a-half away from full implementation and its true costs and impact on non-government sponsored plans still to be determined, Vilsack highlighted what the Obama Administration has been trumpeting of late. Those highlights include:

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• 2.5 million more young adults have health insurance on their parent’s plan;
• 3.6 million seniors with Medicare in 2011 along saved an average of $600 on the cost of their prescriptions drugs. And everyone on Medicare can get preventive services like mammograms for free;
• insurance companies must spend at least 80% of premium dollars on health care and quality improvements and not overhead and cannot raise premiums by 10% or more with no accountability and
• it is illegal for insurance companies to deny coverage to children because of pre-existing conditions. And in 2014, discriminating against anyone with a pre-existing condition will be illegal.

Of course, several of these points are up for debate including whether the expansion of Medicare coverage can be supported on the cost side and whether a federal agency is adequately prepared to rule on company premiums, overhead, and profit margins. Still, Vilsack touted the law’s promises to Americans and he underscored its impact on rural families:

• Encouraging thousands of new primary care doctors and nurses to practice in rural communities and increase payments to rural health providers;
• removing insurance barriers to emergency services allowing rural citizens to seek care from a hospital outside their health plan’s network when there is no time to travel to a hospital that is farther away;
• giving options for those with pre-existing conditions and forbidding insurers from using an unintentional error in the application to cancel coverage when one is ill;
• giving seniors freedom to get the care they need including free preventive care, lower cost prescription drugs, and Medicare they can count on; and
• giving farm families the flexibility to keep children on their parent’s health insurance until they are 26.

What was left unsaid by Vilsack today is how the government will manage the cost of the Affordable Care Act going forward. The Congressional Budget Office last week said the cost to the health care system will most likely be more than $2 trillion, not the $900 billion previously published. For now, the administration is choosing to ignore those numbers suggesting, perhaps, that budget office figures will always change. Instead, agency heads such as Vilsack want to focus on the myriad of programs already underway or soon to be.