US Pharm. 2014;39(8):4.
It’s hard to believe that 4 years have passed since President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act (ACA) into law on March 23, 2010. As it turns out, despite the blizzard of political controversy and protests, obvious and unfortunate missteps with the enrollment Website, and legal challenges, the law touches, or will touch, the lives of nearly every American to some degree. Politics aside, its basic objectives remain intact: making affordable healthcare coverage accessible to millions of
Americans who are uninsured; placing controls on insurance companies’ costs and reimbursement policies while generally holding them more accountable for their actions; and placing more emphasis on promoting wellness instead of treating disease. No question, that is a pretty tall order, and there is no shortage of skeptics who are quick to disparage the law’s lofty goals.
Undoubtedly, the healthcare system in this country needed fixing. The United States was spending more per capita on healthcare with worse outcomes than many industrialized nations. People without healthcare insurance were straining the system by allowing serious, chronic illnesses to continue untreated until emergency and critical care became necessary, not only placing their health in jeopardy but also laying a financial burden upon the healthcare delivery system in this country. Political pundits will argue that the ACA is imperfect; I agree. But it is better than what we had. And like many other laws, it is likely to undergo scrutiny and modifications in tandem with changes in the U.S. healthcare system. According to a recent Gallup poll released in May, some change is already evident.
The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index revealed that the uninsured rate for U.S. adults dropped to 13.4% from 15.0% the previous month. By itself that doesn’t sound terribly impressive, but in reality, Gallup reports, “This is the lowest monthly uninsured rate recorded since Gallup and Healthways began tracking it in January, 2008.” The uninsured rate peaked at 18% in the third quarter of 2013 but has consistently declined since then. Gallup said the drop coincided with the health insurance marketplace exchanges opening in October 2013. While these current data are no predictors of the future, they certainly are a positive outcome for the ACA and a move in the right direction.
However, it may be too early for any of us to beat our chests over the results. An article published in The Lancet and reported by Crystal Phend, senior staff writer of the online medical site MedPage Today, underscores the fact that there is still work to be done in improving healthcare.
Reporting on a recent Lancet article, Ms. Phend wrote that Rima Khabbaz, MD, and colleagues at the CDC’s Office of Infectious Diseases concluded that “emerging diseases, outbreaks of vaccine-preventable disease, and antimicrobial resistance present significant risks in the U.S.” Dr. Khabbaz believes that the ACA provides new opportunities for control of infectious diseases through expanded access to care and better healthcare coordination for underserved populations.
Despite the storm of controversy, miscommunication, and political cynicism, I believe the ACA is the stepping-stone this country needed to get healthcare delivery back on its feet. Pharmacists should embrace the ACA and all that it offers Americans. Through their education and vast exposure to patients, I envision pharmacists playing a major role in the law’s success—and I can’t wait to see it happen.