Just in time for the two-year anniversary of the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments on the law’s constitutionality this week.
This is a political column. So let’s leave the litigation and questions of constitutionality to the lawyers.
In my world of people and politics there are two relevant issues. First, does the law provide better medical care for Americans? And is it reducing the cost of health care?
While the new law will not be fully implemented until 2014, the parts that have been enacted show that the indisputable, factual answer to both questions is “yes.” But at the moment, the facts do not seem to matter in the court of public opinion. Republican opposition remains as solid today as the day the act was signed into law.
Overall, a March 11 Bloomberg poll found that 37 percent of Americans say it should be repealed, 46 percent want to wait to see how it works and 11 percent think it should be left just the way it is.
The Wall Street Journal reported last week that 50.5 percent of all Americans oppose the law. That is almost exactly the same level of opposition as there was in 2010. One aspect of that opposition that needs to be highlighted is that more than 20 percent of Americans are opposed because they want the law to do more. Specifically, they want it to include a public option for insurance coverage to put more pressure on insurance companies to lower their rates and requirements for coverage.
Still, according to the Journal’s in-depth reporting, the act’s biggest failure so far concerns a temporary plan to offer coverage to uninsured people before the full law takes effect in 2014. Costly premiums and tight rules for enrollment have led to fewer people than expected signing up. And some states have run out of money for the plan where people have signed up.
Another problem cited by critics is that thousands of companies have found it difficult to get insurance, especially for part-time workers, under new rules limiting the ability of insurers to set ceilings for annual claims and payments.
That’s it. Those two small areas are identified as the law’s big problems. That is the heart of the criticism.
There are other valid criticisms out there, but all of it amounts to nothing compared to the law’s success.
Already, the Obama health care reform has succeeded in preventing insurance companies from discriminating against people with preexisting conditions and allowing young adults to stay on their parent’s health insurance until they turn 26. And many other parts of the law have begun to improve the lives of millions of Americans.
For example, it already requires insurance companies to provide coverage for preventive services such as immunization, screenings and counseling services. In 2011, almost 33 million Medicare beneficiaries and 54 million Americans with private insurance used these services for free. Starting this summer, millions of women will be able to have free mammograms and health counseling.
The Act also closed the costly prescription drug coverage gap in Medicare Part D, more commonly known as the “doughnut hole.” Four million seniors and disabled citizens have saved an estimated $3.2 billion on prescription drugs. More savings are ahead as the law becomes fully implemented.
Americans enrolled in Medicare Advantage — or “Medicare Part C” — have had their premiums lowered by 16 percent since 2010, giving seniors access to inexpensive, quality health care.
Also, due to new enforcement powers given to the Departments of Justice and Health and Human Services, $4.1 billion in fraudulent Medicare claims were stopped in 2011. This constitutes the single largest sum ever recovered in a single year from individuals and companies attempting to defraud the American taxpayer.
The bottom line is the reforms are leading to higher-quality care and increasing consumer protection while bending the cost curve of health care.
Back in 2009, then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Congress must pass health care reform so the American people can find out what is in it. This was an unfortunate statement. It led GOP critics to say Democrats want the public to buy the metaphorical “Pig in Poke.”
But based on what the nation has now seen of the law, the pig is looking like a blue-ribbon winner, a good deal for seniors and the middle class. The only question is whether a good idea can survive bad-mouthing from GOP politicians and hard-right politics on the Supreme Court.
Juan Williams is a writer, author and Fox News political analyst. His latest book "Muzzled: The Assault On Honest Debate" (Crown/Random House) was released in 2011. This column originally appeared in The Hill and on TheHill.com.