One Year Later, The Affordable Care Act's Consumer Protections Are Working

September 23, 2011 9:03 am ET — Meredith Kormes

Lately, the focus in Congress has been on jobs. But on Wednesday, Republicans reminded us that they weren't giving up on their mission to "repeal Obamacare." Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) introduced an amendment to the Health and Human Services appropriations bill that would cut all funding for next year to implement the Affordable Care Act. And Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and John Barrasso (R-WY) introduced legislation to provide states a way to opt out of a provision of the health care law that would dramatically expand coverage to the uninsured poor.

That's why this a good time to remember that today marks a year since implementation began for many of the consumer protections in the Affordable Care Act. These consumer protections, known collectively as the new Patients' Bill of Rights, remove barriers to insurance coverage and stop insurance company abuses.

Today, young adults 26 and under are allowed to remain on their parents' health insurance, something previously not allow allowed by many insurance companies. Recent data from the U.S. Census and from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that since this provision was enacted, the number of young adults without insurance dropped by about one million.

Other consumer protection provisions in the law now prohibit insurers from denying care to children with pre-existing conditions, setting lifetime dollar limits on coverage, and dropping people when they get sick. Insurers are also prohibited from charging co-pays, co-insurance, or deductibles for preventive care and screenings with all new insurance plans. More protections, like eliminating annual limits on insurance coverage, preventing insurance companies from denying adults coverage due to pre-existing conditions, or discriminating based on gender are coming patients' way when the law is fully implemented in 2014.

In the 18 months since the law was signed, there have been other improvements to the health care system. In 2010, three million seniors who fell into the Medicare prescription drug "donut hole" received a one-time $250 rebate to help pay for prescriptions, and this year 1.28 million seniors who reached the coverage gap automatically got a 50 percent discount on brand-name prescription drugs.

And starting this month, the health care law helps to hold insurance companies accountable for unreasonable rate hikes. Insurers who seek rate increases of 10 percent or more (in the individual and small group markets) are required to disclose the proposed increase and publicly justify them. With insurance companies taking in record profits while still increasing premiums, rate reviews will bring needed scrutiny and transparency to the market. Recent examples of rate reviews in states like Rhode Island and California show that they have helped to lower the cost of coverage for individuals and employers.

These early successes show that, despite Republican criticism, the Affordable Care Act is working. Millions of individuals are already benefiting from the consumer protections in the law, and when it is fully implemented millions more will be covered and protected.