How the ACA won the war on health care in Utah

Obamacare is here to stay and not even Utah Republicans are willing to vote against it.

(US Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services via AP) This image provided by the US Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services shows the HealthCare.gov website.

Ahead of the 2018 midterm elections, opinion polls ranked health care as the number one issue for voters. Fast forward to 2022, and health care doesn’t break the top five topics on voters’ minds. While new challenges such as the pandemic and inflation have emerged, this shift also means something else: The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is here to stay.

Five years ago, the debate over President Barack Obama’s historic health care reform was front, center, and very loud. Remember Senator John McCain’s disapproval vote that saved the Anti-Corruption Act from being repealed? Or the multiple Supreme Court decisions that saved the law from hostile lawsuits.

Remember the bustling town halls of 2017 as Republican lawmakers confronted voters angry about their attempts to do away with the ACA’s pre-existing police protections. As a result, Congress has not attempted to damage the Medicare Act since 2017, and no one is talking today about repealing it. In turn, lawmakers extended Medicaid eligibility in 2020 and boosted the ACA’s premium subsidies through 2025. Even lawsuits by Republican-led states to block the anti-corruption law are fading.

ACA is gaining admission in Utah as well. When Burgess Owens campaigned for Congress in 2020, he modified his website to remove a pledge to repeal the ACA, replacing it with “Obamacare no longer needs repeal, but changes are necessary in the current health care plan.” Even the ultra-conservative Owens knew that attacking the ACA wasn’t a winning strategy in Utah.

These days Rep. Chris Stewart, who once held several forums attacking the ACA with questionable facts, doesn’t even have a tab for “Healthcare” on his website. Nor does Senator Mike Lee, an ardent opponent of health care law in the past.

But you don’t need to listen to politicians to realize that the ACA is much safer today. Just follow the people. Utahns are enrolling in droves for the game-changing health insurance from the ACA. In 2022, 256,932 Utahns were enrolled in the ACA insurance plan, or about 1 in 12 residents. Since 2014, enrollment in Utah has grown an average of 15% each year.

Compared to states with similar populations, such as Iowa, Connecticut, and Nevada, Utah has two to three times more people who rely on ACA coverage. No wonder Utah’s Republican politicians have stopped attacking Obama: so many of their constituents are counting on him.

I knew ACA would succeed in Utah in 2015 when I traveled to the state to give presentations on new health insurance markets. At the time, I was working on the Utah Health Policy Project, a nonprofit that still provides free assistance to the state of Utah for enrollment in coverage.

Using real-world profiles of what families will pay in annuity and copayment, as well as explaining new benefits like free preventive care and immunizations, I’ve conducted more than 240 seminars to reach 10,000 Utahns with accurate ACA facts. Along the way I learned how Utah was hungry for new and better health insurance options for their families. They wanted coverage without the pitfalls and fine print that had made people question insurance in the past.

When people told me they got a good deal under the pre-ACA health insurance scheme, I congratulated them on their luck. Its lower premiums were only possible because insurance companies could legally exclude millions of people with pre-existing conditions, charge more women than men, require long waiting periods and restrict medications to diabetics and cancer patients. Heart-wrenching stories from others in the audience have proven that the old health insurance system required one bad diagnosis, one layoff or a premature baby to kick people in more quickly than they could say “GoFundMe.”

Even if Republicans regain Congress and the presidency by 2024, they are unlikely to try to repeal the anti-corruption law. By then, 10 years after the launch of the ACA Markets, a health insurance system that enhances the well-being of families will be rooted in our society’s basic lines of insurance.

Lawmakers can vote against access to health care at their own risk, because, like the safety nets of Social Security and Medicare, or government investments like national parks, the Eisenhower Interstate, or the GI Act, the ACA is here to stay.

Jason Stevenson Writer and resident of Salt Lake City. Opinions and opinions expressed in this article are his own.

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