A caring mother described the scary nights she sat with cool washcloths over her fevered and very sick child worrying that, because they simply couldn’t afford to go to the doctor, her son may not get well. No one should have to shoulder the grinding stress of knowing that an easily treatable infection or pneumonia could develop into a life- threatening illness simply because they can’t get an antibiotic or other medical treatment.
Unfortunately, similar situations have been a reality for so many West Virginians. That’s why I have always believed medical care should be a right for everyone, not a privilege enjoyed by only the fortunate.
We recently marked the third anniversary of the landmark health reform law, and I’m glad to say that many fewer West Virginians face these problems now than they did a few years ago.
When the health reform law is fully implemented in 2014, it will be the first time that such a sweeping health reform law goes into effect and there will undoubtedly be some challenges. But no state has more to gain from the health reform law than West Virginia. And we’ve already been seeing many of those gains over the past three years.
To date, 18,000 West Virginia young adults have gained health insurance because they are now allowed to stay on their parents’ plans until they are 26 years old. And even more have been helped because health insurance companies are no longer allowed to turn away children just because they have a pre-existing condition, like asthma or diabetes.
More than 37,750 West Virginia seniors with high prescription drug costs received an average savings of $891 last year because the law is closing the gap in prescription drug coverage under Medicare, and those savings will only continue.
Even more, 17,000 West Virginia small businesses that want to offer health care coverage to their employees can now get a tax credit to help them do just that.
Health insurance companies are now required to cover preventive services, like flu shots, colonoscopies, or mammograms, which screen for cancer.
The new law also requires insurance companies to spend almost all of the money consumers pay on premiums for actual medical care, instead of executive salaries and fancy office buildings. And if they don’t, they have to give money back to consumers. This protection has already led to $2.7 million in rebates for West Virginians.
Before the health reform law, uninsured West Virginians were unable to get preventive care, and would then use the emergency room. If they couldn’t afford to pay, those costs would be shifted on to everyone else in the form of higher premiums — an extra $1,000 per year in health premiums for the average family. But the health reform law is changing the old ways of doing things. Health spending is now at historic lows for three consecutive years and Medicare and Medicaid spending are growing even slower. At the same time, families are getting more access to better care that is more affordable.
These reforms are very real. And starting on Oct. 1, West Virginians with and without health insurance will have a new central location called a health insurance exchange or “marketplace” where they can compare different health insurance plans and pick the one that best fits their needs.
Many West Virginians will qualify for tax credits to purchase more affordable coverage or possibly be able to join Medicaid. And, in 2014, health insurance companies will no longer be allowed to deny adults coverage because of a pre-existing condition.
The law isn’t perfect. No major reform law ever is. But it’s already bringing about positive change, fixing a system we know was broken. From the first moment I saw the realities of life without health care, I’ve been fighting to see this progress made and I believe so strongly in the difference it will make for West Virginia.
— Jay Rockefeller is the senior U.S.
senator from West Virginia