Forum focuses on health
JANESVILLE When Americans take the time to understand how the Affordable Care Act will affect them and their families, they will learn it isn't as bad as what they've probably heard.
That was the message Tuesday night from a panel of experts seeking to explain the effects of health care legislation also known as "Obamacare." Nearly 90 people attended the forum, sponsored by the Janesville League of Women Voters at the Rock County Job Center in Janesville.
Dr. Zorba Paster of Madison led the panel. He is a practicing family physician, author, professor of family medicine at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health and host of public radio's "Zorba Paster on Your Health."
Paster joined Carol Koby, executive producer and host of "All About Living" and "Living Minutes" on WTDY Radio in Madison, and Lisa Lamkins, advocacy director for AARP Wisconsin.
After their presentation, one audience member submitted the question: You make the Affordable Care Act sound like mostly a positive thing. So why are so many people opposed to it?
"I don't know," Paster said.
A lot of surveys have been done, which found one reason for the opposition is a lack of understanding, Lamkins said.
"You're hearing bits and pieces that are not accurate," she said.
Studies have shown once people understand the act and what it means to people, "they are not as opposed to it. So much of it has to do with understanding it," she said.
Paster explained some of the changes mandated by the reform:
-- Children can remain on their parents' health insurance until they turn 26.
-- Every insurance plan must have a minimum of one preventive care visit without a copay.
In the U.S., 4,000 young women die from cervical cancer each year because they lack the money to get a Pap test, Paster said.
-- No one may be denied insurance for pre-existing conditions.
-- Each state must set up their own insurance exchange or let the federal government form one for them.
-- Lifetime limits for coverage are banned.
-- Birth control pills must be provided without a copay.
-- Employers with 50 or people must offer health insurance.
-- All individuals need to have insurance.
Lamkins said she gets asked all the time about the individual mandate.
"Yes, everybody needs to have some type of insurance," she said.
If you are on Medicare or you have insurance through your employer, you do not need to buy anything more, she said. The health insurance exchanges being set up are for the millions of uninsured. If you have insurance from somewhere else, you can't buy from the exchange.
The United States spends more money on health care—$7,250 per person—than any other country in the world, yet the country is No. 14 in health rankings, Paster said. The No. 1 country, Switzerland, spends $4,417 per person.
The Affordable Care Act moves the needle from a treatment model to prevention and wellness, Koby said.
The country will continue treatments, she said, "but prevention and wellness has been something that has been relatively ignored. Physicians have been paid by fee for service, fee for procedure. Now they're looking at fee for outcome, for quality, for patient satisfaction."
Lamkins also hit on one repeated misconception: that Medicare benefits are being cut $716 billion.
"That is simply not true," she said.
Medicare will see savings of $716 billion over 10 years, she said, but it's being spun to make it seem like cuts are starting next year.
One attendee wanted to know if the Affordable Care Act would be substantially changed.
"Well, ask me (next) Wednesday morning," Koby said. "A lot depends on this election."
The act is the law of the land, and the U.S. Supreme Court has deemed it constitutional, she said.
"Until it is changed, it will continue to move forward," she said.
By Nov. 16, all states are supposed to have letters sent to the federal government explaining what their plans are for health exchanges, she said. By January—even if Republican Mitt Romney is elected—the exchanges are supposed to be roughly laid out.
Romney has said he would repeal the act, and if he has the congressional support, the law could be repealed or changed, she said.
JATV plans to air the forum this weekend or Monday.