Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy on Health Reform's Third Anniversary
March 22, 2013
Three years ago tomorrow, President Obama signed into law the Affordable Care Act. This landmark law will extend health insurance coverage to millions of uninsured Americans when the reforms are fully implemented next year. Getting to this point has been an arduous process. But in the end, this achievement proved that real reform is possible, and that the voices of so many Americans who over the years have called on their leaders to act have finally been heard.
Since its passage, Americans have seen the immediate benefits of the Affordable Care Act and three years later, those improvements continue. Seniors on Medicare who have high-cost prescriptions are continuing to receive help when trapped within the coverage gap known as the “donut hole.” The Affordable Care Act completely closes the coverage gap by 2020, and the new law makes it easier for seniors to afford prescription drugs in the meantime. In 2010, more than 7000 Vermonters received a $250 rebate to help cover the cost of their prescription drugs when they hit the donut hole. Last year alone, nearly 6400 Vermonters with Medicare received a 50 percent discount on their covered brand-name prescriptions, resulting in an average savings of $765 per person. Since the Affordable Care Act was signed into law, more than 5000 young adults in Vermont have gained health insurance coverage under these reforms, which allow young adults to stay on their parents’ plans until their 26th birthdays. The improvements we are seeing in Vermont go on and on: in 2011 and 2012, 71 million Americans and 151,000 Vermonters with private insurance gained access to and received preventative screening coverage with no deductible or co-pay, including more than 80,000 Medicare beneficiaries. These are just a few of the dozens of consumer protections included in the law that are benefiting Vermonters and all Americans every day, and in many, many ways.
The law goes into full swing next year as even more consumer protections are implemented and millions more Americans gain access to health insurance coverage. Beginning in January, insurance companies will no longer be allowed to deny coverage to individuals with pre-existing health conditions or to charge higher premiums based on health status or gender. Unfortunately, estimates show that 44,000 Vermonters currently do not have health insurance, but with the Medicaid expansion contained in the Affordable Care Act, 84 percent of these Vermonters will qualify for Medicaid or a premium tax credit. Also important to Vermonters, to assist Vermont with our state’s work on implementing Vermont’s state-based health insurance exchange -- or marketplace -- Vermont has received more than $125,000,000 in grants for research and for information technology development, as well as almost $3,480,000 for maternal health programs. These tangible initiatives help at-risk families gain the support they need to improve their children’s health and ability to learn, and they help prevent child abuse.
I was proud as well to work with Senator Grassley and others to include strong anti-fraud provisions in the law that already have helped prevent and detect fraudulent activities that in the past have cost American taxpayers multiple millions of dollars each year. Thanks in part to these efforts, $4.2 billion was returned to taxpayers last year alone.
In only three years, Vermonters across our state have seen the many benefits of health care reform unfold in their lives. I see and hear about these improvements and pocketbook savings in visits to every corner of our state. At home in Middlesex and throughout Vermont, whether I am in the grocery store, at the gas pump, or at church, I am constantly reminded of how important access to quality affordable health care is to individuals and families. I applaud Vermont’s efforts to expand the Affordable Care Act’s reach even further to help every resident secure health insurance. I am proud that the Affordable Care Act offers Vermont the foundation it needs to reach this goal, and I look forward to working to see that it is met.
Regrettably, opponents of the Affordable Care Act continue to misleadingly attack the law in an attempt to undermine its implementation. The moment President Obama signed this bill into law, opponents sought to continue their political battle by challenging the landmark legislation in the courts. With the legal challenges now nearly resolved, we are now seeing amendments filed to every bill we consider on the Floor, aimed at repealing or gutting the Affordable Care Act. In fact, on the Budget Resolution we are considering today, dozens of amendments have been filed in an effort to block the Affordable Care Act’s implementation, to undermine its success in making lives better across the land, or to repeal the law completely. This is unfortunate, it is shortsighted, and it is cynical. Even more shameful is the Budget Resolution considered and passed by the House this week. The House-passed budget would make drastic changes to the Medicaid program causing 14 to 20 million Americans to lose health coverage; it would replace Medicare with a voucher scheme costing seniors at least $6000 more per year; and would completely repeal all the consumer protections included in the Affordable Care Act.
The Affordable Care Act is not perfect, but in the true interests of the people we represent we should be working together to ensure its success. We can make improvements where necessary, but we must allow full implementation to continue. Already the Affordable Care Act has changed so many lives for the better, and we must not turn our backs on the millions more who will have access to health care next year because of these reforms.
The Affordable Care Act is a tremendous achievement that will improve the lives of Americans for generations to come. This anniversary is a time to renew our commitment to completing this important work on behalf of the American people, who are counting on us to do the right thing. With each year that we move forward to implement the features of this landmark health reform law, the stories of families not being able to gain access to affordable coverage are becoming fewer and fewer and are being replaced by stories of the success of these reforms, one family at a time, all across Vermont and all across America. I look forward to continuing to work with Vermont and with the administration as the law moves forward in its fourth year.
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