As the U.S. Supreme Court deliberates the fate of the Affordable Care Act, let us remember why our current health care system is broken and how the act is already expanding access for thousands of hard-working Americans.
Walk into any public hospital in the U.S. today and you see a very different population than depicted on television shows like "E.R." You see not only the faces of the homeless, gunshot victims, and migrant workers. At Highland Hospital, Alameda County’s primary site for indigent emergency care, many of our patients work multiple part-time jobs and delay preventative care because they must choose between paying the doctor’s bill and buying groceries.
For the nearly 50 million uninsured people nationwide, the Affordable Care Act will provide a support system to aid in everyday survival. For those workers fortunate enough to have benefits, health care reform will also bring relief by leveling the playing field, bringing younger, healthier people into the system and reducing costs for all.
Health care coverage for a typical family of four under an employer-sponsored plan is expected to cost the employer and employee a combined $20,000 in 2012. That figure has risen more than 7% from 2011, according to projections by the consulting firm Milliman, Inc.
Preventable conditions like diabetes and heart disease affect the patients’ quality of life and also lead to emotional and financial burdens that are borne by families, employers and the American taxpayer. According to the New America Foundation, the poor health and shorter lifespan of the uninsured cost the U.S. economy between $102 and $204 billion annually in lost productivity.
In Alameda County, we aren’t waiting for the Supreme Court decision—we have already begun preparing for the act by implementing the “Bridge to Reform.” This program provides people who will be eligible for MediCal (Medicaid) in 2014 access to public insurance now through Alameda County’s Low Income Health Program called HealthPAC.
There are currently 75,000-100,000 Alameda County residents eligible for HealthPAC. These people are currently ineligible for MediCal, are younger than 65, have a family income of 0-200% of the Federal Poverty Level, and are able to verify citizenship or legal permanent residency for at least 5 years.
Since enrollment began in July 2011, we have signed up approximately 40,000 residents. Alameda County is partnering with community clinics, safety net hospitals, social services agencies and churches to get the word out to people who are difficult to reach.
Because of Alameda County’s aggressive implementation of the act, we have already brought in more than $35 million in new federal money to fully fund HealthPAC. If we continue toward full implementation, Alameda County will receive even more federal funding to fulfill our mission of providing safety net services for those in need.
If we are successful in enrolling the remaining eligible uninsured in HealthPAC before 2014, Alameda County will be positioned to focus all of our attention toward enrolling people who don’t qualify for HealthPAC into the California State Insurance Exchange, where they can pick their own health plan and access federal subsidies.
Saving employers money and keeping our citizens healthy is not a liberal or a conservative issue. Don’t we all want Americans to be healthy and prosperous? Don’t we all want children to stay in school and workers to stay on the job?