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Fighting the myths about health-care reform with facts

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 28, 2010 - A federal official says the new health-reform law has become "a political football," but the Obama administration is making progress in carrying out all provisions of the legislation.

"We're going to continue implementing the law," said Judy Baker, regional director of the Department of Health and Human Services in Kansas City. "The states are at the table. All 50 of them are working to be prepared for implementation."

Baker spoke in St. Louis at a community discussion about the Affordable Care Act at the CHIPS Health and Wellness Center, 2431 North Grand Blvd. Her comments were timely in that Republican leaders in Congress have said dismantling the Affordable Care Act would be one of their first orders of business if they prevail in the upcoming midterm elections on Tuesday.

Among other things, Baker called attention to what she said were three major myths about the law.

  • One, she said, was the claim that health reform would result in higher taxes and would cause job losses. In fact, she said, the law includes "the largest middle-class tax cut for health care in American history." In addition, she said the law would offer tax credits to make health insurance affordable. She added that some independent projections were that the law would result in the creation of 250,000 jobs.
  • A second myth, she said, was the contentious argument that the law would force people to buy insurance that they can't afford. To the contrary, Baker said the law would offer tax credits to people who need help buying insurance and would offer "hardship waivers for those who still can't afford it." The law also shields people from bankruptcy stemming from medical bills, and she said that people no longer would be stuck with a "hidden tax" that insurers pass on to customers to cover health costs of the uninsured.
  • The Missouri Foundation for Health found in a recent poll that some Missourians disliked health reform because they believed would cut Medicare. Baker said that's the third myth: that health reform will result in Medicare cuts. Baker said the law does "just the opposite" of what opponents claim it will do to Medicare. "No Medicare benefits will be reduced, and new benefits have been added," she says. The added benefits, she says, include free preventive care, an annual wellness visit, and a phase-out of the Medicare doughnut hole to ease prescription drug expenses.

Other speakers at the session were Dr. James R. Kimmey, CEO of the Missouri Foundation for Health; Edward Lawlor, director of the Institute for Public Health at Washington University; Judy Bentley, CEO of CHIPS; and Rabbi Randy Fleisher of Central Reform Congregation.

Kimmey said he was disappointed by what passes for public discussion about health-care reform.

"If you've been watching TV, most of what you get is a distorted view of what health-care reform is all about," he said, adding that the Missouri Foundation for Health had tried to clear up some of the misinformation with straightforward, factual material on its website.

Lawlor praised the Affordable Care Act for setting up what he said would be a new form of health-care provider. Among other things, he says, the law has the potential for developing school-based clinics as a way of expanding health access for children and even expanding dental care into schools.

"The emphasis is on building a public-health workforce and community health workforce," he said. "The idea is outreach; that's the subplot of this legislation."

Bentley said the law offers the "opportunity for communities to get the services they need and to increase health and wellness. It's not about the pill. It's about social services, grocery services, nutrition."

Panelists were asked what the public should do in the event federal lawmakers try to overturn the Affordable Care Act.

Rabbi Fleisher's one-word reply generated laughter.

"Pray," he said.

Funding for health reporting is provided in part by the Missouri Foundation for Health, a philanthropic organization whose vision is to improve the health of the people in the communities it serves.

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