Recently, public discussion of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has been clouded by a storm of right-wing ideological predictions of risk and peril. Often these concerns are non-specific anxieties about what is going to happen when the act is implemented. So far, the only thing wrong has been an overwhelmed website on the national level.
As clergy, we have been trained to assist members of our congregations to sign up on Rhode Island’s HealthSourceRI.com website and have begun to do so successfully. Since it is a program that is being rolled out in stages, we already know about some of the key provisions that are currently in effect. If what has been implemented so far is emblematic of what is to come, there is more cause for celebration than alarm.
So far, people with chronic conditions have had unreasonable lifetime and annual limits on their benefits removed. Now many uninsured individuals no longer have to worry about being rejected because of a pre-existing condition. Young people home from college are able to stay on their parents’ insurance longer. There are several safeguards put in place to protect consumers.
So, where exactly is the “bad stuff?” The truth is, that what is coming into view looks even better. The act creates a health care framework that is rooted in medical research. One consequence
of this is mandated coverage for a number of valuable preventive care services. There is, arguably, a no more worthwhile priority for prevention services than women’s reproductive care. Thankfully, gone are the days when even basic maternity and newborn care were uncovered benefits on some plans.
Under the Affordable Care Act, women with insurance will have available a wide range of tests and interventions central to their sexual and reproductive health with no need to worry about cost sharing, i.e. co-pays and deductibles. The fact that this can only lead to improved quality of care should not be overlooked. And healthier families lead to healthier communities. Sometimes, there seems to be a reticence about discussing this area of health care. In general, there is a lack of clarity. The attempt by some right-leaning religious leaders to reduce women’s medical care simply to being about contraception doesn’t help. As religious leaders and women, we are convinced that responsible family planning is the preferred moral choice and contraception is invaluable for this purpose. However, we believe that it is time to move on and to take a realistic view of all the options and health care tools made available to women through the ACA.
Perhaps because we are pastors, a lot of things are brought to our attention that otherwise might escape our notice. Generally, these are issues that touch the lives of families in our congregations. Cancer is no small matter and the availability of screenings for ovarian, cervical and breast cancer is reassuring, and occasionally lifesaving. Screenings for children during the infant and toddler years add to the peace of mind of many young families.
The Affordable Care Act already has removed many of the traps that have disrupted the economic security of middle and working-class families. There is no danger of being dropped by your insurance plan if a person gets sick, and one can move to a different job and a different plan without concern for any chronic pre-existing condition. The evidence-based services are providing screening and intervention to address an array of life-threatening conditions, without cost sharing.
We have to admit, with little corroboration of its alleged limitations and with conspicuous demonstration of its actual strengths; the Affordable Care Act has earned our respect.
Rev. Betsy Aldrich Garland is the Interim Minister at the Moosup Valley Congregational Christian Church, United Church of Christ, in Foster. Rev. Amy Frenze is the Minister of Hope Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, in East Providence. Both are Warwick residents.