As someone who has spent his professional career working towards the goal of quality, affordable health coverage for everyone, President Obama’s convincing victory last night was a huge milestone. The Affordable Care Act – Obamacare – is here to stay. It was a long, hard road to achieve this goal that began with an enormously divisive debate and ended with a Supreme Court approval and an electorate that, while still divided on many issues, in the end supported the President on health care.
What happened? Obamacare isn’t the perfect law on health reform, but more and more people realized the benefits of the law already in place from help with prescription drugs for seniors to tax credits for small businesses, health insurance rebates, and the banning of pre-existing condition exclusions for kids. And the promise of new affordable health plans was too clear to ignore. Simply put, it became clear that Obamacare puts us on the right track to reform our health system.
One part of our work on health care here is to go around North Carolina and talk to people about their health care. After the Supreme Court decision on Obamacare, we began to see a change in the questions people would ask and the concerns they had. Rather than jumping into partisan talking points over non-existent phantom taxes and trumped-up “death panels,” people were ready to talk about how to move forward to make the law work better.
It was almost as if people were relieved Obamacare had made the question of whether we should make sure everyone could afford health care moot. Now we could talk about real questions around how to improve the quality of care we all receive, how to best contain health costs and how to make sure our rural areas have enough doctors, nurses and other professionals to make our communities as strong as they can be.
To be sure North Carolina still faces some big questions as we move forward, the first being whether we will be one of the majority of states who will expand Medicaid under Obamacare, thus helping our rural hospitals and rural communities while we bring $20 billion into the state to help health care providers care for 500,000 of our fellow citizens. The policy benefits are too big to ignore here and my guess is that we will do the expansion, if only because the consequences for NC are so stark if we don’t. No North Carolina politician of either party will be too happy at the prospect of billions of dollars of money that should be coming to NC being diverted to states like New York and Massachusetts.
The other question for our state will be how we set up a new health exchange where small businesses and individuals who don’t get coverage though their work can buy affordable health plans. Thankfully, NC’s Insurance Commissioner, Wayne Goodwin, was convincingly reelected. His support for consumers in a variety of areas, including health care, bodes well for a state-based exchange that will work for consumers and not insurance companies.
While we face the hard work of implementation, Obamacare is here to stay.