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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Affordable Health Care - Three Months Later

President Obama comforts a teary-eyed Amy Wilhite at yesterday's briefing marking the
Three Month Anniversary of the signing of the Affordable Care Act.  Photo/CD Brown.

Today the president remarked on the 90 Day Anniversary of his signing of the Affordable Care Act into law, and the New Patient's Bill of Rights.

Speaking from the East Room the president spoke on ways his administration is planning to put into affect provisions of the new law and also announced the release of new regulations implementing the Patient's Bill of Rights protections included in the Affordable Care Act.

"This law will cut costs and make coverage more affordable for families and small businesses. It’s reform that begins to bring down our government’s long-term structural deficit. It’s reform that finally extends the opportunity to purchase coverage to the millions who currently don’t have it and includes tough new consumer protections to guarantee greater stability, security and control for the millions who do have health insurance."

The president was introduced by Amy Wilhite of Marblehead, Ohio whose daughter, Taylor, was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML), a fast-growing cancer of the blood and bone marrow. Taylor received three rounds of chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant. The cancer treatment produced multiple side effects: problems with her heart and hip, short-term memory loss, steroid-induced diabetes, and a compromised immune system. Taylor’s father’s insurance plan has a $1 million lifetime limit. As Taylor approached the limit, her parents requested a $500,000 extension and it was granted.

"Amy, you and Taylor are why the Affordable Care Act bans those lifetime limits. And you’re why these members of Congress right here fought so hard, despite some very tough politics, to make this happen."

Under the Affordable Care Act, all insurance companies are prohibited from imposing lifetime benefit limits, effective for health plan years beginning on or after September 23, 2010. Also starting in September, some of the worst abuses will be banned such as discriminating against children with preexisting conditions, and retroactively dropping a patient’s policy when they get sick if they made an unintentional mistake on an application.

Under the Patient’s Bill of Rights, barriers between patients and their doctors will eliminated.

Americans will be able to keep the primary care doctor or pediatrician they choose. You’ll be able to see an OBGYN without a referral. You’ll be able to seek emergency care at a hospital outside the plan’s network without fighting to get approval from an insurance company first. And consumers will finally have access to simple, clear information about their choices and their rights. These protections to preserve America’s choice of doctors made up the original Patient’s Bill of Rights. It was a proposal that was debated over a decade ago with significant bipartisan support, but was never enacted until now as part of the Affordable Care Act", said Obama.

Supporters of the bill agree.  "I'm thrilled to be here", said one member of a consumer's watchdog group. "I think he did a fair accounting of the consumer benefits that are in the bill."

"This Patient’s Bill of Rights is something that people have talked about for the last twenty to twenty five years", said National Medical Association's Executive Leader, Kweisi Mfume

"The fact that it's actually taking shape, or taking form is significant.  For those of us who are working in the larger medical and health care industries, we applaud that.  At the same time, we are watching Congress and conjoling members of the House and Senate to go back and fix the Medicare cut which is going to disproportionately affect physicians all across this country, and at the end of the day will disproportionately affect their ability to serve patients, so we commend the president for his comments.  We are actively urging Congress to do what it should do in terms of fixing the Medicare cuts, and I think this was a significant day - especially in respect to the Patient's Bill of Rights."

According to the administration, Americans should already see the bill working.

"While it will take a few years to fully implement this law, we can already see it taking effect, said Obama. "Last month, 4 million small business owners found a postcard in their mailbox informing them that they could be eligible for a health care tax cut this year worth tens of thousands of dollars to help them cover their employees. And America’s largest businesses are filling out applications for critical relief to help them provide coverage for retirees who aren’t yet eligible for Medicare."

The president added that the law will strengthen Medicare by going after waste and fraud and abuse in the system, and aggressively pursuing those who prey on seniors with scams.

"So this is a long-overdue victory for America’s consumers and patients. And yes, it does away with the status quo that some insurance companies have taken advantage of for so long. But insurance companies should see this reform as an opportunity to improve care and increase competition. They shouldn’t see it as an opportunity to enact unjustifiable rate increases that don’t boost care and inflate their bottom line."

The president met with company CEOs who were instrumental in reforming the previous healthcare system, many present in yesterday's briefing.

"What Americans expect in return is a greater level of accountability and fairness and security. We expect to get what we pay for. And these rights guarantee just that -- basic rules of the road that will make America’s health care system more consumer-driven and more cost-effective, and give Americans the peace of mind that their insurance will be there when they need it."

The president was met by those he called "on the other side of the aisle" who opposed the plan's measures.  The president proclaimed America can't go back to the old status quo of providing healthcare.

"Would you want to go back to discriminating against children with preexisting conditions?", asked Obama. " Would you want to go back to dropping coverage for people when they get sick? Would you want to reinstate lifetime limits on benefits so that mothers like Amy have to worry?

Supporters of the bill share the president's sentiments.

"Obviously those people don't think we should extend healthcare to everybody", said Congresswoman Donna Christiansen (D-VI).

"They don't seem to believe insurance companies need reform.  I think it is a lot of anti-Obama sentiment there, because a lot of those complaining about the bill who will eventually benefit from the bill.  They are arguing against something that is in their best interest." 

"They want to go back to the system we had before, said Obama of his detractors who would like to see the old status quo prevail.

"We’re not going back.  I refuse to go back."

For more on health care reform click here.

America's Healthcare Stories: Meet Nathan and Laura
Video: President Obama's Remarks

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