Friday marks the second anniversary of the passage of health reform. Two years into the rollout of the law, we must ask: How many people have been helped? What does it mean for Medicare?
Despite a continued call for repeal by Republicans, Americans of all ages have gained significantly.
From free preventive care and lower prescription costs for seniors to expanded coverage for young adults, health reform is only beginning to show the fruits of the many consumer protections included in the law.
With continued implementation, the nightmare of being denied coverage because of a pre-existing condition will end for all Americans. Consumers will finally be in control of their health care, not the private insurance companies whose primary motivation is a robust bottom line.
Unfortunately, today's polarized political conversation too often overshadows health reform's positive story.
Consider people on Medicare. Thanks to health reform, 32.5 million seniors and people with disabilities took advantage of lifesaving preventive services in 2011, including mammograms and colonoscopies, which are now free of charge. Nearly 3 million Californians have done so.
People in Medicare who've hit the dreaded gap in prescription drug coverage known as the "donut hole" saved, on average, $635 on medications over the past two years. That's a total of $3.2 billion in savings nationwide. More than 320,000 Californians have already benefitted from this policy. The donut hole will be completely closed by 2020.
Health reform also ensures that people under 65 with private insurance have access to preventive services at no cost. More than 54 million Americans, including nearly 6.2 million Californians, already have this coverage because of the new law.
Health reform is now making coverage available to millions of young adults -- previously the most uninsured group in America. They often had no coverage because they didn't have access through a college plan or an employer, particularly in this tough economy.
The law allows people up to age 26 to obtain coverage on their parent's plan. More than 2.5 million young adults nationwide -- and nearly 360,000 in California -- now have health insurance in this way.
What's more, health reform is opening up access to health insurance for people who had been denied at the whim of private insurers. No longer can insurers refuse coverage to children under age 19 because of a pre-existing condition.
With full implementation of the law, no insurer will be able to deny coverage to any person due to a pre-existing condition. This is especially important to women, who've been routinely denied coverage based on pregnancy, having had a C-section, breast or cervical cancer, or having been a victim of domestic violence. The law is bringing long overdue gender equity to health care in this country.
Health reform also prohibits insurers from setting lifetime limits on coverage. This common feature used to cut people off from their health care right when they needed it most, say, for cancer treatment or while managing a chronic disease. Health reform's end to this practice has already protected more than 105 million Americans and more than 12 million Californians.
Republicans are happy to call health reform a "government takeover," but I'd call all the benefits that Americans have gained -- and will continue to gain -- a redistribution of power. Instead of private insurers going unchecked while Americans go uninsured, consumers are rightfully put in charge of their health care.
Republican calls for repeal would only put big health insurers back in charge. That's the wrong prescription for America's health.
Rep. Pete Stark, D-Fremont, is a senior member of the Ways and Means Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives and the top Democratic member of its health subcommittee.