In the coming weeks and months, the Supreme Court will decide the fate of the Affordable Care Act. This law has been debated contentiously and has become subject to partisan politics. Through all of the debate, however, it seems we’ve lost sight of the urgent problems that drove Washington to seek a solution in the first place. The new law is not perfect and still needs work, but we believe it is the right thing to do for the people of our country and Montana.
As members of the faith community and leaders in our churches, we see Montana families struggling with poverty, disability, and unemployment every day. Too many families in Montana have not been able to afford health insurance. Insurance companies have denied coverage to people because of pre-existing medical conditions, and even insured families have found that when they needed coverage most, their plan had stifling limits. The new law has helped to ease this burden.
The Affordable Care Act has not solved every problem, but it has already helped over 100 million people nationwide and thousands in Montana alone. In the next couple of years other major provisions will take effect, helping even more people. As faith leaders, we believe that caring for the most vulnerable is a moral responsibility; the Affordable Care Act law does just that.
Before the new law, your insurance company could put annual or lifetime limits on your coverage. Often people experiencing serious illness or injury found that their coverage maxed out in the most desperate times. Under the Affordable Care Act, lifetime limits are banned, helping 319,000 people in Montana, and annual limits are on their way out. Insurance companies can no longer investigate people with high health bills in order to cancel their coverage, and insurers can no longer “rescind” your policy when you need it most because of an innocent mistake you made during enrollment. Before the Affordable Care Act, children with chronic health conditions could be denied coverage, but now insurers are never allowed to refuse to cover a sick child. Young adults under the age of 26 will no longer be removed from their parents’ insurance policies at a time when they’re trying to achieve independence. Nearly 8,400 young people in Montana have gained or kept their parents’ health coverage because of this law. Allowing families to continue to provide for their children is a pillar of a strong community.
Because of the Affordable Care Act, over 86 million people on private insurance and Medicare are guaranteed preventive health benefits, including 166,000 privately insured people and 115,065 seniors in Montana. Seniors now receive new drug discounts. In 2011, 10,415 Montana seniors saved $6,409,940. We consider seniors to be a vital resource in our faith communities, and we want to keep them healthy and protected by allowing them to save money, obtain necessary prescriptions, and fully utilize preventive health care services.
In 2014, additional insurance reforms will go into effect, which would not allow insurers to exclude coverage for pre-existing conditions for adults. With the creation of health insurance exchanges, you will be able to purchase coverage in a marketplace where private insurance companies will have to compete for your business based on quality and price. Coverage will be affordable with the help of income-based tax credits and limits on the amount you are required to contribute to premiums.
We believe that insurance companies should not have the right to determine our health or that of our families. For too long, they have denied coverage to those who need it most, while continuing to increase premiums. It is time for things to change.
Looking back at two years of the Affordable Care Act, we realize that although it is not perfect, it is helping more people every day. We need to move forward and continue to improve it by supporting its enactment. We must let Congress know that as individuals, as faith communities, and as a nation, we have a right to better and more affordable health care. As faith leaders, we are counting on the Supreme Court to help shield all our people from further discrimination and mistreatment at the hands of insurance companies, because everyone deserves the right to be healthy.
Healthy people lead to better communities in Montana.
(Bishop Jessica Crist is with the Montana Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in Great Falls. Montana faith leaders who co-signed the column include the Rev. John Lund, ELCA Lutheran Campus Pastor, Missoula; the Rev. Jean Larson, Our Savior’s Lutheran, Bonner, ELCA; the Rev. Amy Carter, University Congregational Church UCC, Missoula; the Rev. Tom King, University Congregational Church UCC, Missoula; the Rev. Barry Padget, First United Methodist Church, Missoula; Terry Jimmerson, pastoral associate, St. Anthony Catholic Church, Missoula; the Rev. Chris Flohr, St. Paul Lutheran Church Pastor, Missoula; the Rev. Sally Mullen, interfaith minister, Missoula; the Rev. Dan Krebill, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in Bozeman; the Rev. Susan Otey, Grace United Methodist Church, Billings; Susan Ogden, Parish Nurse, First Congregational Church UCC, Billings.)