As House Republicans attempted to demonize the Affordable Care Act in Washington, DC, local Democratic lawmakers in the Bronx began promoting the healthcare reform package, often referred to as “Obamacare,” as a significant improvement in how Americans pay for and receive health care.
Because the House, which is controlled by Republicans, continued to link every budget bill to the de-funding of the Affordable Care Act, the federal government was forced to shut down many of its operations on Tuesday.
President Obama, however, said he will not sign anything into law that would diminish his signature piece of legislation. Its funding is not tied to the general operating budget, meaning people were able to start shopping for new insurance plans through the act’s mandated online marketplaces on Tuesday morning.
In the lead up to the launch of the marketplaces, Democrats were out hyping up its benefits and disparaging Republican political tactics.
Congressman Charles Rangel, a staunch proponent of the Affordable Care Act when the president and Democrats pushed it through Congress in 2010, told a crowd at North Central Bronx Hospital that the reform package “is complicated,” but will begin showing tangible benefits. Comparing it to other established programs, like Social Security and Medicare, Rangel said Americans will soon adopt the ACA’s “language and make it your own.”
Rangel told the audience the healthcare reforms made under ACA will be the “best thing” Obama does during his presidency. For this reason, he says, Republicans want to tear it down. “They will do anything to hurt this president,” Rangel said.
While some of the act’s benefits have already started — children can now stay on their parents’ insurance until the age of 26, for example — the big test of its impact comes this fall.
In every state including New York, healthcare marketplaces or “exchanges” where individuals, families and small businesses can choose between insurance options, opened up online.
The 70 percent of Americans who already have insurance can stay with what they have or use the exchange to find a cheaper or better alternative. The other roughly 30 percent without insurance, which amounts to about 40 million people, must sign up for some type of insurance or face a tax “penalty.” Some people with low income levels may receive federal subsidies or fall under the expanded Medicaid program, which is fully paid for by the government. Enrollment will be open until early March of 2014.
The more people who sign up through the exchange, the cheaper and better the insurance options will become, advocates say. At the same time, less uninsured people will theoretically mean less uninsured people using emergency rooms — which Rangel called “the most expensive healthcare in the entire world” — for common maladies or as a last resort when they become extremely sick.
“In your hands is going to be a tremendous opportunity,” Rangel said a week before the exchange opened. “This is going to work.”
Republicans have pledged to end Obamacare, which they refer to as a “job-killing” program that is a grave threat to the American way of life. But defenders of the program say it’s just sour grapes.
Congressman Joseph Crowley, who represents Queens and the east Bronx, said Republicans holding out on Obamacare was akin to a sibling who takes a toy from their younger brother and won’t give it back, just because.
Proponents of the plan admit the system isn’t perfect — delays and glitches were reported during the grand opening on Tuesday — but they say it will have a positive impact.
Kate Rose, the senior director of public policy and government relations at Montefiore Medical Center, said the insurance options in New York will be as good as any in the country. “New York’s marketplace is exceptional,” she said. “It goes above and beyond the minimum in comparison with other states and the federal government.”
Rose says New York’s program is going out of its way to be as helpful as possible. On Tuesday, the state’s online marketplace, New York State of Health, received more than two million visitors.
Rangel said the idea behind near universal health insurance is simple — it will allow for more preventative care, which will allow more people to stay healthy, productive and successful.
On Tuesday, outside Montefiore’s main entrance on East 210th Street in Norwood, the hospital set up booths as part of a campaign to inform staff and local residents about the new healthcare insurance exchange. Judy Czydek was there because her husband just received a bone marrow transplant. She’s covered under Medicare, but said she also wanted to get information for her nephew who recently lost his job and, with it, his insurance. She’s a believer in Obamacare because of its potentially preventative benefits.
“A lot of times if you can go to the doctor and they can detect something in its infancy, they can address this and can get you back on your feet with a better chance of recovery,” she said. “So I think that’s the right thing to do and I’m just appalled at anyone who’s against something like this.”
— Reporting contributed by Kimberly Jacobs
Editor’s note: This story was originally published in the Oct. 3-17 print edition of the Norwood News.