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My view: Utah will miss out on ACA benefits

By Ron Pollack

For the Deseret News

Published: Tuesday, June 25 2013 2:35 p.m. MDT

In approximately 100 days, starting on Oct. 1, millions of families across the nation will have an opportunity enroll in health coverage through the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare.

Associated Press

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In approximately 100 days, starting on Oct. 1, millions of families across the nation will have an opportunity enroll in health coverage through the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare.

The law's full benefits will be most apparent and available to residents of the two dozen states that have adopted the Medicaid expansion and are fully implementing the law. Sadly, Utah is one of the states where residents will not see the vast potential benefits of the ACA.

Here are some other things about the law to watch for as we approach and get beyond the Oct. 1 milestone — and for some of these benefits the key word in Utah is "watch," because all provisions of the law won't be in effect here.

First, expect the public's focus on the ACA to become increasingly personal and decreasingly political. This key date will mean it's time for families to shift their focus to the nuts and bolts of the new law and how it affects their lives.

Families that can't pay for health coverage today will be looking for details about the new premium subsidies that will make health insurance much more affordable.

Consumers seeking increased value for their health care dollars will learn how new insurance marketplaces give them meaningful choices — choices that enable them to select health plans best suited for their needs, with access to physicians they trust.

People with diabetes, asthma or cancer — whether they currently have coverage or will be looking for coverage — will seek assurance that insurance companies can no longer deny coverage or charge discriminatory premiums due to their pre-existing conditions.

Some Republican leaders vow that the ACA will be a top 2014 election issue, but expect political rhetoric to become a sideshow as Oct. 1 draws near. What will really matter will be how the ACA directly affects the lives of Utahns and other American families.

Second, there will be significant and perceptible differences from one state to another in terms of health coverage, costs and quality of care — with states, unlike Utah, that actively participate in all provisions of the law faring much better.

These differences between states will show up in a number of ways. For example, states that accept generous federal funding to expand Medicaid coverage for low-income families will show remarkable improvements in reducing uninsured rates. Utah, which has turned a cold shoulder to people who need help the most, won't see these reductions.

States with larger numbers of on-the-ground helpers, sometimes called "navigators" or "assisters," will help their citizens much more effectively to secure premium subsidies and to obtain coverage that is most responsive to their families' needs.

And states that implement active oversight of their insurance marketplaces will do appreciably better in decelerating decades of premium increases.

But all is not lost for Utah's families. The third thing to watch for after the Oct. 1 key day is how actual advances among active, cooperating states like neighboring Colorado will slowly but surely lead to a reconsideration of the Utah's decision to implement only portions of the federal law.

Already, eight conservative governors — like Gov. Jan Brewer of Arizona — have declared their support for the Medicaid expansion, understanding that it would be an act of fiscal malpractice to turn down this federal funding.

And when other benefits of ACA implementation in active states become clearer, additional Republican governors will want to follow their lead.

As a result, effective implementation of the new health reform law will spread throughout the country. This will enable our nation to move closer to affordable, quality health coverage and care for all Americans.

Ron Pollack is the founding executive director of Families USA, the national organization for health care consumers. He is also the founding board chairman of Enroll America, an organization seeking to enroll all uninsured Americans in health coverage.

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