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Why is the U.S. pursuing health care reform?


Problems with Private Insurance
Did someone say health care reform?
Did someone say health care reform?
Jochen Sands/Digital Vision/Getty Images

Most people in the U.S. have health insurance through their employer, which means they may not know how much the costs of private insurance plans have been rising. From 1988 to 2006, health insurance premiums grew at three times the rate of inflation; workers' wages grew at the same rate as inflation [source: Clifton]. While workers may pay the price in terms of lower raises, that extra money is, of course, someone's bottom line. American insurance companies are the only ones in the industrialized world that are allowed to operate at a profit for providing basic care [source: Reid].

Perhaps for that reason, many of the reforms in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act are aimed at private insurance companies. These changes include a set of consumer protections that ensure providers can't deny coverage or charge higher premiums to people based on pre-existing conditions or stop covering paying customers once they get sick.

The new law also includes a mandate that every person procure insurance coverage, and every business (small businesses exempted) must provide coverage to their employees. Those who are unable to pay will be eligible for subsidies from the government, while some people may find themselves newly eligible for Medicaid. Covering the uninsured could have benefits for those already covered: One think tank estimated that families pay an extra $1,100 in premiums and individuals pay an extra $410 each year because providers shift the costs of treating the uninsured to the insured [source: Kingsbury].

These expenditures will only increase, and many analysts claim that the cost of ignoring problems within the health care system would only have meant more spending down the line. While the law will add up to $938 billion over 10 years, it will also cut the deficit by more than $100 billion over the same period, largely because the law makes the effort to curb runaway spending in this sector. Without changes to the insurance system, all Americans would have eventually seen their premiums rise, their services cut and their bottom line affected [source: Abelson]. While the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act may be far from ideal for both liberals and conservatives, the president has deemed it a necessary first step.

For more on what the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act includes, see the links on the next page.


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