March 23 marked the second anniversary of the passage of the national health reform bill, also known as the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Although Americans have already seen several of the legislations provisions take effect, for many, the verdict on health reform is still out. However, for the following Rhode Islanders who are already benefiting from the law in very important ways, the Affordable Care Act has improved their lives.
Brianne is a 22-year-old who lives in Providence and graduated from URI last May. She is currently working part-time as a physical therapy aide. Brianne suffers from several seasonal and food allergies that require her to make frequent trips to her allergist. Because of a provision in the ACA, Brianne is able to remain on her mothers health insurance coverage, enabling her to access the treatments she needs while ensuring her mother's peace of mind. Without this coverage, Brianne would be hard-pressed to afford the numerous treatments necessary to address her allergies on her part-time salary. As of June of last year, Brianne was one of over 7,500 young adults in Rhode Island who gained health coverage as a result of the reform law.
Jane is a senior citizen who lives alone in affordable housing for seniors in Warwick. Later in life, she developed heart disease and other health complications that require her to take numerous medications to help manage her conditions. Jane is on Medicare Part D and had to pay out of her own pocket for expensive, life-saving dugs when she reached the coverage gap, known as the donut hole. Because of the Affordable Care Act, Jane was one of almost 15,800 people with Medicare in Rhode Island who received a $250 rebate to help cover the cost of their prescription drugs last year. Additionally, over 14,800 Medicare beneficiaries in Rhode Island received a 50 percent discount on their covered brand-name prescription drugs when they hit the donut hole last year. This discount resulted in an average savings of over $500 for each senior who reached the "donut hole," for a total savings of over $8.2 million to older Rhode Islanders. In addition, over 128,000 Rhode Islanders enrolled in Medicare received free preventive services, like mammograms, and a free annual wellness visit.
Geoff owns a small business in Providence that has been around since the 1800s. Geoff feels he has a moral obligation to provide health insurance coverage for his employees because, he said, its the right thing to do. Under national health reform, Geoff qualified for the Small Business Healthcare Tax Credit, giving him back up to 35 percent of employee premiums he paid last year. Those are dollars that Geoff can reinvest in his business during these tough economic times. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the tax credit will save U.S. small businesses $40 billion by 2019.
Although the country is still nearly as divided as it was when the bill was signed in 2010, here in Rhode Island, Governor Chafee has communicated that he is fully committed to ensuring that Rhode Island is a national leader in implementing health reform.
In the last year alone, Rhode Island received over $64 million in federal grants for research, planning, technology infrastructure and implementation of a health benefits exchange, an online marketplace for easily comparing and purchasing health insurance. Our exchange planning has led the rest of the countrys efforts, earning Rhode Island national recognition. This is in part due to the active collaboration among the volunteer members of the Rhode Island Healthcare Reform Commission, multiple state agencies, the small business community, health care advocates and those who provide care.
Yet, the impact of the Act extends well beyond health benefits exchanges, and even farther still than the stories of the Rhode Islanders Ive mentioned earlier. In addition to the help the act has brought to young adults, seniors and small businesses, the health reform law also makes preventive services available without any deductible or co-pay, removes lifetime monetary limits on health benefits, and creates new coverage options for Rhode Islanders who have pre-existing conditions that historically prevented them from obtaining coverage. Every Rhode Islander will benefit from insurance that helps keep us healthy at a cost that is more affordable.
In just two years, our state has made incredible strides toward implementing the health reform law. We will continue working toward our ultimate goal of achieving improved health for Rhode Islanders through universal access to high quality health care while making it affordable and sustainable for families and businesses, as well as for providers. Our progress to date could not have been accomplished without the millions in funding the reform law has provided for our efforts, as well as the hundreds of Rhode Islanders that are working to make affordable health care a reality for all in our state.
Lieutenant Governor Elizabeth H. Roberts is Chair of the RI Healthcare Reform Commission.