Healthcare reform anniversary brings hot debate

Supporters of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act were engaged in a full-court press of messaging today on how the health-care reforms – signed into law one year ago tomorrow – have benefited Californians and people across the nation.

Health Access California executive director Anthony Wright, joined by advocates from the California Public Interest Research Group, the Western Center on Law & Poverty and the California Pan-Ethnic Health Network, held a conference call today to roll out a new report showing that hundreds of thousands of Californians already have directly benefited from the law.

Among those beneficiaries, the report says, are:

    • More than 100 employers and trusts that got specific financial assistance with early retiree coverage.
    • Nearly 1,800 Californians who had been denied private coverage due to their health status, who now have coverage through the new Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Program (PCIP).
    • Thousands of children with pre-existing conditions who now have new access to coverage.
    • Thousands of Blue Shield policyholders who won’t see a third rate hike in six months and Anthem Blue Cross policyholders who will see reduced rate hikes, thanks to additional scrutiny that came in part due to the new law.
    • Tens of thousands of young adults (out of nearly 200,000) who now get coverage through their parents’ health insurance.
    • Hundreds of thousands of workers employed by small businesses that are getting a tax credit so they can better afford to provide coverage for their employees.
    • Hundreds of thousands of seniors who got a $250 check to assist with prescription drug costs.

But the advocates said California still has a lot of legislative and regulatory work to do in order to prepare for the law’s full implementation – most notably, perhaps, the nuts and bolts of getting its new Health Benefit Exchange up and running by 2014, they said.

Another task that needs tackling is “aligning California law to the Medicaid expansion by 2014, both in terms of new populations eligible and new eligibility rules,” the report says. “As important, California needs to overhaul and streamline its eligibility and enrollment systems, so that obtaining coverage is quick, easy, and seamless for California consumers – whether they are eligible for Medi-Cal or Healthy Families, subsidies in the new Exchange, or private coverage.”

That conference call was soon followed by another featuring Small Business Administration Regional Administrator Elizabeth Echols, Small Business California President Scott Hauge and Small Business Majority CEO John Arensmeyer, taking questions from small business owners on how the law affects them.

“We’re trying to inform the small business community about what’s in the law but also hear what your needs are, what your questions are,” Arensmeyer said.

Small Business Majority and Pacific Community Ventures this month surveyed 804 California small business owners with fewer than 20 employees on key provisions of the Affordable Care Act. The results, released yesterday, showed small business owners are more likely to retain or start providing health insurance because of the healthcare tax credits and state insurance exchange requirements included in the law, but also that many small business owners remain under-informed about these and other provisions.

Echols, Hauge, HHS Region IX Director Herb Schutlz and others had done a similar, live event yesterday in San Francisco. Rep. Pete Stark, D-Fremont, the House Ways and Means Subcommittee’s ranking Democrat, issued a statement yesterday along these same lines.

“The Affordable Care Act is a winner for America’s small businesses. Right now, it is currently helping small businesses by offering tax credits to firms that provide coverage to workers, and offering consumer protections that help small business workers buy coverage on their own,” he said. “Once reform is fully enacted, small businesses will have access to the same affordable, high-quality care that large businesses provide.”

Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, headlined a rally at the Concord Senior Center today.

“We see right here with us today the very real and very positive impact that health reforms have had on people in our community,” he said. “Regardless of your political views, there is no denying the fact that the law is benefiting people right now and will continue to benefit millions more over the next few years.”

“There’s no denying it, when young adults stand up and say – ‘if it wasn’t for health reform, I wouldn’t have insurance.’ You can’t deny that the law is benefiting people when tens of thousands of small business employees have been offered health insurance thanks to the small business tax credits in the bill.You can’t deny that this law is a sigh of relief for parents who don’t have to worry about lifetime caps on care for their kids,” he continued. “And you can’t deny the law is helping seniors who have received help with the high cost of prescription drugs and are getting free preventive screening under Medicare thanks to this law.”

California Democratic Party Chairman John Burton got on the messaging bandwagon today, too.

“Unfortunately, Republicans in Congress seem hell bent on destroying these hard won protections and are doing everything in their power to turn back the clock on our collective health care future. Instead of focusing on creating jobs and growing our economy, they’re scheming to defund the Affordable Care Act or supporting efforts to challenge it in court,” he said in an e-mailed statement. “We thank Democrats like Leader Pelosi, Senators Feinstein and Boxer and members of the California Democratic Congressional Delegation for standing firm and acting as a bulwark against these dangerous and destructive efforts to overturn the Affordable Care Act.”

Republicans are doing some messaging of their own.

The National Republican Congressional Committee used the issue and anniversary to keep up its constant barrage of attacks on House Democrats it believes to be vulnerable, including Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton.

“Jerry McNerney has consistently put the interests of Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic Party ahead of his constituents,” NRCC spokesman Tyler Houlton said. “McNerney is directly responsible for the increase in healthcare costs California families are now experiencing.”

And U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, the Senate Finance Committee’s ranking Republican, will hold a news conference tomorrow in Salt Lake City detailing “the provisions and realities of the $2.6 trillion health law.” He’ll be joined by Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtlef, who will provide an update on the one year anniversary of the lawsuit filed by Utah and other states challenging the law’s constitutionality, and by Utah Metal Works owner Mark Lewon, who “will put an actual picture to the provisions his company, and many others are faced with as they try to remain successful and profitable in the face of government mandates found within ObamaCare.”

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.