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Local Patients Share Affordable Care Act Experiences and Expectations

December 4, 2012 | WMFE - The Affordable Care Act was passed in 2010. But key provisions of the reform haven't kicked in yet, leaving many people uncertain about the quality and cost of care under the new law. For some local patients, however, the act is already bringing about changes.

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Nearly everyone in the country will be affected by the law’s requirement to carry health insurance by 2014, so there’s no shortage of potential patients with strong opinions about the legislation.

One of them is Orlando mom Kate O’Neal, for whom healthcare reform has already been a lifesaver.

“My daughter's alive because of the Affordable Care Act,” she says.

Before Obamacare, O’Neal’s daughter Caitlin aged out of the family’s health insurance policy when she turned 22. But when the law was enacted in 2010, allowing children to stay on their parent’s insurance until age 26, she was able to get back on the family plan.

And that was vital, O’Neal says, because without coverage, a trip to the doctor would not have been in the cards when Caitlin got sick a few months later.

“She said to me, 'Yeah, I've got this rash, and it looks like bug bites.' And I said, 'You know what? We have insurance right now, go in and get that checked out,'” recalls O’Neal.

And she was shocked at Caitlin’s diagnosis. Doctors said her daughter had MRSA, a potentially fatal bacterial infection that's resistant to many antibiotics.

O’Neal still shudders when she thinks about what could’ve happened if Caitlin didn’t have health insurance. “We might've lost her...over something that's completely treatable if caught early. Especially when caught early.”

Caitlin is now 25 and healthy, and under Obamacare, she's eligible to stay on the family policy one more year. But there’s a new concern. O’Neal’s health insurance from her former full-time job lapses in February. After that, she'll fall between the cracks of the healthcare system, making too much money to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to afford health insurance for her three children and herself. At least, she says, until she can get covered through the Affordable Care Act.

“So we’re just kind of in limbo until then, trying to figure out what’s going to work,” says O’Neal.

According to policy experts, O’Neal is not alone. Aaron Liberman is a professor of Health Services Administration at the University of Central Florida. He says the best part of healthcare reform is it will insure 32 million Americans that currently don’t have health coverage.

But Liberman doesn’t think the law goes far enough. “It’s a start down a very long road toward a universal system of healthcare coverage, and that’s something that I view as absolutely essential for the citizens of the United States,” he says.

Not everyone thinks universal coverage is the best solution, or even agrees on what that means, just as some people are not supporters of the Affordable Care Act.

“Telling everybody that they have to have insurance is not necessarily the best way to fix this,” says Daniel Jones, owner of a small landscaping business in Orlando. He says he doesn’t want to see people going without care, and that the healthcare system does need changes to bring costs down, but parts of it still work.

“My daughter was born with a congenital heart defect, and my insurance company's been wonderful about paying every single one of the expenses that's ever come up,” he notes.

Jones says he currently cannot offer health benefits to his twelve employees because it’s cost-prohibitive. And under the Affordable Care Act, he still won’t have to, since it’s only businesses with 50 or more employees that must provide coverage or pay a fine. Still, Jones says, he’s expecting his wallet to take a hit, along with everyone else’s.

“I do know in my personal insurance, I've seen my premiums go up more in the last two years than they did in the preceding five years. That's attributed directly to the beginning stages of the Affordable Care Act,” he says. “I expect to see a lot more of those things happen throughout the economy. So, that will affect me.”

UCF healthcare expert Aaron Liberman predicts there will indeed be changes that ripple through the economy, but it’s hard to say if costs will go up or down in the long run. He does expect the law to be a work in progress, much like Medicare, which began in 1966 and is still undergoing changes.

“I believe this is going to go on for the next half-century at least, with respect to healthcare reform,” says Liberman.

For Orlando mom Kate O’Neal, Obamacare’s major changes can’t come soon enough.

“I don't know everything that's going on. I just know that when it kicks in fully, I'll be able to get coverage again,” she says. “And that'll be extremely valuable, to all of us.”

Florida lawmakers have to decide whether to set up and run the state’s insurance exchange that will offer coverage for O’Neal and about a million other residents, or leave it up to the federal government.






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