Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives today launched an assault on the Affordable Care Act, or ACA, seeking repeal not modification.
Medicare recipients have already received some benefits from the law, and this move only increases the complexity of retirement planning. Among the changes are the following key improvements.
Partial closing of the the Medicare Part D coverage gap, known as the "doughnut hole." In 2010, individuals in the doughnut hole were eligible to receive a $250 rebate on drug costs. This year, they will receive a 50 percent discount on brand-name drugs, so long as the ACA remains intact.
Expanded preventive care services. The ACA eliminates copays for many Medicare-covered preventive services, including mammograms, colonoscopies and osteoporosis screenings.
Improved access to insurance for people younger than 65. If you are older than 50 and don't get insurance at work, it has been nearly impossible in some states to buy coverage on your own. Under the ACA, those with pre-existing conditions can join their states' high-risk pools, which are mandated by the ACA. Beginning in 2014, people in this category will have access to even more insurance options through plans offered on state-based health exchanges and expanded Medicaid.
Supporters of the ACA says it will save taxpayers money in the long run and reduce the federal budget deficit by controlling health care costs. Those who would repeal the law say the Congressional Budget Office, which calculated these savings, made mistakes and this will soon be an entitlement program that runs amuck.
It seems unlikely that the Republicans will be able to muster enough votes in both houses of Congress to push through repeal -- and personally, I'm glad. Moving toward broader health care coverage seems smarter and better for people approaching or living in retirement than the GOP's dig-in-your-heels commitment to the status quo.
My recent experience with a death in the family showed me Medicare's strength and some of its warts, and it left me with the conviction that no public health care program is ever going to be perfect -- but having one available is extraordinarily important.
Fundamentally, I agree with this point of view from Calvin Bruce, managing editor of Jackson & Coker, a health care research firm, who said: "One can only hope that the impact and benefits of medical technology, drug discoveries and scientific advancements will overshadow any setbacks experienced in implementing health care reform stemming from renewed debate in legislative circles."
In other words, we can't just stand still.