Photo Credit: Official White House Photo by Sonya N. Hebert
Next week, all eyes will be on the U.S. Supreme Court as the highest court in the land does something very unusual according to legal scholars. It will consider striking down a piece of federal legislation – the health care law known as the Affordable Care Act, which 26 states charge is unconstitutional.
“I feel great about the Supreme Court argument,” Deputy Chief of Staff Nancy-Ann DeParle, told a group of reporters and me at a roundtable this week in the West Wing. Still, it was clear the White House was trying to get the message out about “what’s at stake,” according to DeParle, in this election year with Republicans vowing to repeal every aspect of President Obama’s plan if they’re victorious in November.
“The things that we’ve gained and the changes that have been made for women and for families and for all Americans but especially for women and families would all be taken away and we’d be going in a very different direction,” said DeParle, who’s been involved in every aspect of health care reform for the Obama administration.
How does this law affect you?
How does it impact women and families? DeParle and Jeanne Lambrew, Deputy Assistant to the President for Health Policy, rattled off a number of ways you might not be aware of: how 40,000 people with pre-existing conditions who couldn’t get coverage now can; how it will be illegal for insurance companies to deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions in 2014; how 105 million people are benefitting from no lifetime limits on their coverage; how 2.5 million young adults are now covered under their parents’ plans; how 3.6 million seniors with Medicare saved an average of $600 each on the cost of their prescription drugs in 2011; how 45 million women got free preventive services last year; how additional benefits for women go into effect this summer such as a coverage for a well woman’s visit, breastfeeding support and free contraception coverage (you’ve no doubt heart about that!) and how, in 2014, women will no longer be denied coverage or pay more if they have breast cancer, a history of domestic violence or are pregnant.
“This law is far from perfect,” said DeParle, “but it’s an incredible start, an incredible path forward and we’re just anxious to get on to the next phase of it.”
Americans Remain Divided
Still, polls show Americans are split along party lines when it comes to supporting the law, and even men and women who back it don’t necessarily know how the legislation, signed into law two years ago Friday by President Obama, affects them. I asked DeParle and Lambrew that very question – do they wish they did more to educate the public about the parts of the plan that are improving their lives?
“We’ll continue to try to work on the education part of it, that obviously matters for the political support of the bill but in terms of what this law (means) to people on the ground, I mean 105 million no longer have a lifetime limit, 54 million people nationwide have had their preventive services improved by that,” she added. “Those are our metrics at the end of the day, have we made a difference in people’s health, in people’s lives.”
“There’s been a sustained campaign against health reform to make people think it’s a bad thing,” said DeParle. “We have not done a soup to nuts public education campaign about this… We haven’t tried to get out there to say, health reform is good, health reform is good, maybe we should have but we’ve been focused on trying to implement it.”
The Most Controversial Part of the Law
The individual mandate, the provision kicking in two years from now requiring everyone to have insurance, remains the most controversial, lacks wide popular support and is at the heart of the Supreme Court case. “I think a lot of people think that the so-called individual mandate is a huge new imposition on their liberty based on what they heard from some when In fact for many, most, I suppose, Americans, nothing is going to change, they’ll just check a box that says yes, I have insurance,” said DeParle. “Nothing will change except that over time their cost, the cost growth of their plan should decline.”
How Much Does It All Cost?
Costs is at the heart of other arguments against the plan – people who say they’ve seen their costs go up, not go down, and Republicans who charge the program is adding billions to the federal deficit. “We have evidence that private and public spending are down,” said Lambrew, hinting the administration would be releasing information Thursday on how premiums have slowed in terms of growth. She also said the Congressional Budget Office, the nonpartisan agency which provides economic data to Congress, released new estimates predicting that the cost of the health care law will be $50 billion lower over the next decade. (The agency also estimated that approximately three to five million people would likely no longer get coverage from their employers under the law.)
“We know that we worked hard to make sure that costs are lower,” said Lambrew. “We reduced the deficit, we reduced costs, we are reducing premiums.”
What do you think? Is the health care law working for you and your family? Have you benefitted? Are you faring worse under the plan? Chime in below or on our message boards! We want to hear from you and stay tuned to iVote for coverage of next week’s pivotal three days of arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Kelly Wallace is Chief Correspondent of iVillage. Follow Kelly on Twitter (@kellywallacetv).