To us at Justice in Aging, there’s nothing controversial about affordable, accessible health care for all people as we age. Five years ago today—on March 23, 2010—the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was signed into law by President Obama. The law is working and continues to improve health care quality and access. It’s easy to forget that the improvements we now take for granted were not around just a few years ago. On its fifth birthday, we’re remembering to celebrate five things that are better today because of the ACA.
1. Newly created consumer assistance programs are helping low-income seniors.
The ACA introduced a demonstration that changes the way low-income seniors in several states receive their Medicare and Medicaid benefits. As part of this dual eligible demonstration, participating states developed independent ombudsman programs to help consumers access their care and understand their rights. Six states now offer new assistance programs, with more on the way next year.
2. Community services will be delivered in settings that are truly community in nature.
Low income seniors and people with disabilities who receive Medicaid should have access to home and community-based services (HCBS) that enable them to live with dignity and independence in their homes. Before the ACA, federal law lacked clear guidance on what it means for a service and setting to truly be community-based. Thanks to the ACA, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) created a first-of-its-kind federal regulation to ensure that Medicaid-funded HCBS are provided in a community environment. As states work to comply with the rule, they are rethinking what it means to provide HCBS to meet the needs of today’s older adults.
3. Uninsured young Baby Boomers have new access to much-needed health care coverage.
Before the ACA, low-income adults, aged 55-64, struggled to access affordable health care. As a result of the recession, many young boomers lost homes, jobs, and access to health insurance. Millions of baby boomers were just hanging on, waiting to age into Medicare. When the ACA finally offered a new opportunity for health insurance, this generation signed up in droves—one out of four new sign-ups came from a young senior waiting for coverage. For young seniors in the 28 states that adopted Medicaid expansion, the ACA has been lifesaver. Young boomers in the remaining 22 states are continuing to struggle while their states refuse to recognize the promise of ACA coverage and Medicaid expansion. When Medicaid expansion is approved in all 50 states, we’ll really celebrate.
4. Medicare beneficiaries continue to save money on prescription drugs.
Before the ACA, Medicare Part D covered the cost of medications only up to a certain point. Seniors were on the hook for all prescription drug costs between that and the catastrophic coverage threshold—a gap known as the “donut hole”—and spent an average of $1,510 per year on medications. Thanks to the ACA, seniors in the donut hole are now receiving savings on prescription drugs, and in 2020, the donut hole will close.
5. Preventive care is now available to Medicare beneficiaries for free.
A Medicare beneficiary should not have to pay as much as $160 for cancer screenings, but that was the reality before the ACA. Today, seniors no longer have to pay a coinsurance and Part B deductible for important preventive services, like screenings for cancer, diabetes, HIV, and obesity. Last year, 26 million Medicare beneficiaries took advantage of these free preventive services.
Today is also the 50th anniversary of the day H.R. 6675 (what would become the Medicare program) passed out of the House Ways and Means committee. Before Medicare and Medicaid, 35% of Americans over 65 did not have health insurance, leaving a huge uninsured aging population with either insurmountable health bills, or more frequently, no health care at all. Despite the dire need, Medicare endured a tumultuous path to become the program that protects 54 million seniors today. Like Medicare, the ACA has and will continue to face hurdles, despite serving and improving the lives of millions of older adults. Justice in Aging will continue to use the law to ensure the improvements seen by low-income older adults remain for the future.
For more info on the Act’s senior impact, watch the Webinar: The Affordable Care Act – What it Means for Seniors, presented by Justice in Aging attorney Amber Cutler.