Julie Sneider
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Repealing health law won’t help Americans

By - Sep 27th, 2010 04:00 am

Photo by Rockgirl05 via Flickr

Last week — the very same day that many consumer protections went into effect under the new health care reform law — Republican Party leaders pledged to repeal those protections if the GOP retakes Congress in November.

Any American who has faced serious illness, either personally or through a family member, should fear the “Pledge to America.” It does not look out for you.

There’s no doubt that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act has its flaws. After all, when has a major piece of legislation become law without requiring adjustments later on? But it also offers a lot to help the average American. Here are some of the new protections that the “Pledge” wants to undo:

  • Insurance companies can’t cancel your health insurance if you get sick.
  • There can be no lifetime limits on essential health care benefits. This is important if you get a serious disease, which can eat up health benefits pretty quickly.
  • Dependents, married or not, can stay covered under their parents’ health plan until age 26. This measure is particularly reassuring to recent college graduates who can’t find a full-time job with benefits.
  • Insurance companies can’t deny health care coverage to children with pre-existing conditions. (Unfortunately, a number of major insurance companies are getting around this rule by ending individual insurance plans for kids. But insurers can’t refuse to cover a child enrolled in a family plan.)
  • Insurance companies can no longer charge co-payments for preventive services like mammograms, colonoscopies, immunizations and pre-natal care.
  • Emergency room services are no longer subject to prior authorization. That means that if you’re having a heart attack and need to get to a hospital fast, you won’t have to first call your insurance company to get permission to visit the ER. Also, you can go to the closest hospital, even if it’s not in your health plan network.

House Republican Leader John Boehner. Photo via Republicanconference, Flickr

More protections will go into effect over the next few years, ultimately leading to the requirement that all Americans must have insurance by 2014. And it’s that point which prompts many Republicans to dismiss the Patient Protection Act as a “government takeover” of America’s health care system.

Their “Pledge to America” calls for repealing the current law and replacing it with smaller reforms — such as tax incentives — to get people to buy insurance. It also says people with pre-existing conditions shouldn’t be denied coverage.

But consider what would happen if no one is required to have insurance, and yet insurance companies are prevented from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions. If healthy people don’t buy insurance until they get sick, their healthy-people premiums won’t be contributing to the insurance risk pool — putting insurance companies at risk of going out of business. Talk about a jobs killer.

The “Pledge” also promises to get government out of the patient-doctor relationship. Without offering specifics, the Republican plan says it will pass new reforms to “strengthen” the relationship between patients and their doctors.

Well, here’s a reality check:  Insurance companies have been standing between patients and their doctors for decades. The Patient Protection Act merely puts a speed bump between the insurance industry and the patient-doctor relationship.

In reality, the 21-page document offers nothing solid to help Americans get through these tough economic times. The document is filled with clichés, worn-out ideas and lots of pictures of patriotic symbols, small towns, white people, cowboys and slabs of red meat. (Seriously — there’s a close-up photo of a butcher shop filled with cuts of raw beef.)

Stale promises to “cut taxes and end runaway government spending” to fix our problems just won’t cut it. The landmark Patient Protection Act and other stimulus legislation passed over the past two years may need some fixing, but the country deserves better than this “Pledge to America.”

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