By Kathleen Sebelius
This week marks the third anniversary of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. For Pennsylvanians, that means a health-care system that is stronger than it was three years ago, and a future that looks even brighter.
Pennsylvanians who have health insurance have benefited from market reforms and consumer protections under the law. Preventive services like mammograms and flu shots are newly accessible to 3.2 million people with private plans. More than 220,000 of the state's Medicare beneficiaries have saved an average of $753 on their medications. And Pennsylvanians are now protected from some of the worst insurance industry abuses, like lifetime coverage caps that could cut off benefits when people need them most.
The law has also begun to curb rising costs across the system by cracking down on waste and fraud, and creating powerful incentives for hospitals to spend resources wisely. These reforms have already led to significant improvements in care outcomes. That includes the first drop on record in hospital readmissions of Medicare beneficiaries.
This progress has contributed to the slowest sustained health-care spending growth in 50 years. National health spending growth has been at historic lows for three consecutive years, and Medicare and Medicaid spending is growing even more slowly. Last year, Medicare spending per beneficiary rose less than 0.5 percent, while Medicaid spending dropped by nearly 2 percent.
The health-care law is demonstrating the right way to deal with rising costs. Instead of simply shifting the burden to seniors and the needy, it's bringing down costs by improving coordination and cutting waste. And it's holding insurance companies accountable by limiting how much of your premiums they can spend on marketing and overhead. This protection has produced $51.6 million in rebates for Pennsylvanians.
For many in the state, better coverage choices are on the way too. Starting in October, a new insurance marketplace will open for enrollment, giving individuals, families, and business owners a simple, convenient way to find a plan that fits their budget.
Beginning next year, it will finally be illegal for insurance companies to discriminate against people with a preexisting medical condition or disability. And insurers will be forbidden from charging women more based on their gender.
Helping more families and business owners get affordable coverage will benefit all Pennsylvanians. Uninsured people often go without preventive care. When their conditions worsen and they end up in emergency rooms, the costs are passed along to everyone else in the form of higher premiums. This effectively adds a hidden tax of $1,000 to the annual premiums of the average family. So covering more people will save everyone money by reducing the cost of uncompensated care.
The health-care law is providing more security for those with coverage, better options for those without it, and more affordable care for everyone. More work remains to be done, but we are moving in the right direction.