The Affordable Care Act (ACA), colloquially known as “Obamacare,” has become a fixture of the U.S. health care system since the time it was signed into law on March 23, 2010. Since then, the percentage of uninsured Americans has dropped to under ten percent — a first since the number originally began being tracked by the Census Bureau in 1997. This is not to say that the ACA has had an easy ride since its inception. To date, congressional Republicans have attempted over 60 times to repeal it.
The most recent of these attempts on Sept. 26 fell flat, when Senate Republicans announced they were pulling the bill. This was the final chance Republicans had to repeal the ACA before the Sept. 30 cutoff. As of that date, a new bill will require the support of more senators than previously required, which means that votes from both parties will be required for passage. Before this time, only a simple majority of 51 votes was needed to pass budget proposals, instead of the 60 usually required in the face of an (inevitable) filibuster. Those rules expired on Sept. 30, the end of fiscal year 2017, making it substantially harder for the 52 Republicans in the senate to pass any sort of repeal.
Many college students, myself included, benefit from the ACA by remaining on the insurance plans of our parents until we turn 26. Not having the worry of health coverage added to the already deep financial shadow of tuition, rent and food is a great help. For students over 26, or that choose not to remain on their parents’ plans, the ACA provides assistance to those with annual incomes between 100-400 percent of the federally accepted poverty level. For an individual, this means an annual income of between roughly $12,000-$48,000 a year. And in the 31 states that voted to expand Medicaid, the federal and state governments provide assistance to anyone at 133 percent of the federal poverty level or below. But while the ACA has brought healthcare to many who previously could not access it, it is not without its shortcomings.
Although it has slowed the rate of health care spending, many Republicans object to the overall cost of the program: the cost of the ACA is projected at $1.2 trillion over the 2016-2025 period. They also object to the ideology of the ACA, preferring to keep the health care market in the private sector, rather than making it a government-controlled marketplace. However, according to the non-partisan Committee for Responsible Budget, the proposed repeal of the ACA would cost an estimated $350 billion and would leave nothing left over for the replacement system, which would require an increase to the national debt unless other programs were cut as well. Yes, the ACA is expensive, but why should we spend even more money for a replacement plan that doesn’t improve upon the original?
If the Republican party plans to seriously attempt to cut the ACA they will need to create a replacement that improves upon the current system, which they have so far failed to provide. Both the plans offered by the House and the Senate in the most recent vote would slash costs of insurance by allowing providers to strip down their coverage plans, provided they at least offer one plan that meets the ACA standards. This could potentially raise premiums for sick individuals as healthy persons migrate to the cheaper, less intensive plans. Many other aspects of Obamacare would fall under the axe as well, including free access to cancer screenings, flu immunizations and birth control, among other things.
Perhaps of more concern for those of us here at MSU, we would no longer be allowed to share a health care plan with parents, adding insurance costs to the ever growing financial burden on students. The ACA may not be perfect, but it’s a far sight better than any alternative that’s been proposed up to this point.