There’s been a lot of news and analysis about Obamacare recently and most of it has been negative. One positive piece, however, spotlighted the way in which Obamacare may end up saving the healthcare system money in the long run. And yet it all ignores the original premise of Obamacare.
The positive piece is from Sean Williams of The Motley Fool, who points out that a new study in JAMA Internal Medicine concluded that Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion has led to significant health benefits in states that adopted it. Obamacare provided every state with extra funds to expand Medicaid only 31 states took the administration up on the offer. Those that did added millions of new low-income families to the Obamacare network , providing health insurance to those who wouldn’t otherwise be eligible.
The study shows that the expansion led to increased access to primary care, fewer skipped medications, reduced out-of-pocket spending, reduced likelihood of emergency unit visits, and increased outpatient visits for low-income adults.
Williams points out that the financial implications there could be huge. While the expansion costs more federal dollars up front, it also means lower healthcare costs in the long run since prevention is cheaper than cure. And, he notes, since 5 percent of the population is responsible for about 50 percent of the nation’s healthcare expenditures, prevention and early intervention in that demographic is a huge cost savings on the back end.
There are plenty of negatives, of course. There aren’t enough healthy young people enrolling in Obamacare to bring the costs down and large insurers may start threatening to walk, as Aetna already has.
And yet all of the financial forecasts, positive and negative, ignore the point – in the most powerful nation in the history of the world, 33 million people still lack health insurance and therefore, healthcare. That’s 10 percent of Americans who can’t afford vaccines, antibiotics, a cast for a broken arm, an ambulance ride or insulin.
The financials are important – they make the system work. But amid the numbers and forecasts, let’s remember that the point is to improve the quality of health and life for millions of people. They are not just numbers and percentages — they’re human beings. The point is not to make healthcare cheaper. The point is to make healthcare cheaper in order to make people healthier. It’s about time we stop forgetting the second part of the sentence.