CHAMPAIGN — The Affordable Care Act is delivering on its promises in Illinois, but there's still a long way to go before health care is available to everyone, one consumer advocate says.
"It's been a long haul and will continue to be a long haul," said Jim Duffett, executive director of Campaign for Better Health Care, on Monday, just days before the law overhauling the nation's health care system marks its second anniversary.
Next week, the Supreme Court will begin hearing oral arguments on the constitutionality of the personal-responsibility clause of the law that requires everyone to purchase health insurance.
Some 1.8 Illinoisans remain uninsured, Duffett says.
But in the two years since the Affordable Care Act was signed into law on March 23, 2010, millions of state residents have gained new protections from such provisions as insurance reforms, access to preventive care without cost sharing and help paying for prescription medicines that have come with this sweeping legislation, he and others said in a teleconference Monday.
In Illinois, 102,659 young adults up to age 26 are now receiving health coverage through their parents' health plans as a result of the new law. More than 4.6 million people in the state no longer have a lifetime limit on their health insurance plans, and nearly 2.4 million people now have coverage for preventive health services without cost sharing, according to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services data.
"We use the word 'Obamacare,' and we use it in a very positive way, because it's having a very positive effect on millions of people in Illinois," Duffett said.
But there's a high price to pay, according to Phil Bloomer, spokesman for U.S. Rep. Tim Johnson, R-Urbana.
A new study from the Congressional Budget Office projected the 10-year cost of the Affordable Care Act will be $1.76 trillion, rather than the $976 billion originally forecast, he said.
"We don't think this is a good solution for health care," Bloomer added.
Johnson favors a market-based approach to health care, "and we believe that would lower costs for everybody," he said.
That includes businesses participating in association health plans and increased competition in the insurance industry over state lines, Bloomer said.
Mayra Alvarez, director of public health policy with the Office of Health Reform at HHS, contends the Affordable Care Act has helped Medicare recipients in Illinois: Some 1.3 million have received free preventive health services and 144,000 have received discounts on prescription drugs when they fell into the "doughnut hole" coverage gap.
"The Affordable Care Act really does give working families in Illinois the security they deserve to have, and that comes from knowing health care will be there when they need it most," she said.
Pam Sutherland, vice president of public policy for Planned Parenthood of Illinois, said the Affordable Care Act is adding multiple health benefits allowing women to lead healthier lives and ending discriminatory practices, such as higher insurance rates for women.
Plus, she said, about 155,000 women in Illinois will be eligible for health care through Medicaid if anti-women politicians don't succeed in removing these benefits.
"As a trusted provider of health care to one in five women, we know how devastating this would be," she said.
Duffett said a major challenge ahead for Illinois remains setting up a fair health care exchange.
Exchanges are new state-regulated organizations being created in individual states for the purchase of individual and group health insurance, starting in 2014.
His organization believes the exchange's governing board should be diverse, but shouldn't include representatives of the insurance industry.
"We don't think the fox should be guarding the chicken coop," Duffett said.