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Obamacare: Yes, there's plenty in it for you

Commentary: Polling shows public doesn't understand the law.

The White House did not receive much holiday cheer about Obamacare last week from public opinion pollsters, even though millions of Americans already are benefiting from the law. The numbers show just how big the disconnect is between the reality of what's occurred in health care since Congress passed the Affordable Care Act in 2010 and the perception that people have of the law resulting from the relentless campaign of misinformation from the president's opponents.

According to an Associated Press online survey, more people had unfavorable opinions of the law than favorable ones, with many people who have insurance through their employers blaming the law for the hike in premiums and deductibles they've been told to expect for next year.

The one thing that was clear from the survey is that most Americans have not yet heard about how the law already is helping them. Many of the respondents also appear to have short-term memory problems. They seem to have forgotten that  premiums and deductibles have been going up, often by double digits, every year for at least a couple of decades.  The reality is that the rate of premium increases since Obama signed the Affordable Care Act has been lower than in many previous years.

The Kaiser Family Foundation reported a couple of years ago, for example, that between 2001 and 2011, average premiums for family coverage increased 113 percent. Not only did premiums increase steadily in the years before the law was passed, but employers also shifted more of the cost of the premiums to their workers and increased deductibles every year.

The average annual increase for employer-sponsored family coverage last year was just four percent, the foundation said, much lower than the average increase in the decade before ACA became law.

"We are in a prolonged period of moderation in premiums, which should create some breathing room for the private sector to try to reduce costs without cutting back benefits for workers," Kaiser President and CEO Drew Altman said in August when his organization released the most recent health insurance numbers.

Chances are you missed that news. Here are some other numbers you might also have missed:

  1. An estimated 3.1 million young adults have been added to the insurance rolls since the provision of the law allowing young people to stay on their parent's policy until age 26 went into effect in 2010.

  2. Policyholders received $1.2 billion in rebates in 2011 and $2.1 billion in 2012 as a result of a provision in the law that requires insurers to spend at least 80 percent of our premium dollars on actual medical care, rather than overhead. If they don't, they have to issue rebate checks.

  3. Medicare beneficiaries have saved an estimated $7 billion on prescription drugs as a result of the provision of the law that closes the gap — known as the "doughnut hole" — in the Medicare Part D drug program. That number will increase substantially in years to come as the doughnut hole closes a bit more. It will be closed completely in 2020.

  4. More than 25.4 million people covered by the original Medicare program received at least one preventive service at no cost to them during just the first eleven months of 2013, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Before the Affordable Care Act was passed, people in the original Medicare program had to pay for preventive services. As a consequence, many did not get the care they needed.

  5. Millions of Americans who have not been able to afford coverage will finally have it in just a few days. Although signup for health coverage was slow during October and much of November because of problems associated with the federally operated health insurance market place (, enrollment has surged since most of the problems were fixed.

By the end of November, an estimated 1.2 million people had enrolled in new health plans. The numbers increased dramatically this month as the Dec. 23 deadline for signing up for coverage approached. In California, for example, 53,510 enrolled in coverage during the first three days of last week, including 20,000 in one day. And President Obama said Friday that another 1 million had signed up for coverage nationwide during the first three weeks of December.

Many of the newly insured have not been able to purchase insurance at any price in the past because insurers refused to sell coverage to millions of Americans with preexisting conditions. Insurers can no longer do that, nor can they charge people more than others simply because of a current or previous illness.

To learn more about how the reform law is affecting us, check out my new eBook, Obamacare: What's in It for Me? What Everyone Needs to Know About the Affordable Care Act. It's available now — just in time for the holidays — on It will be available on iBooks and other places soon.

Former CIGNA executive-turned-whistleblower Wendell Potter writes about the health care industry and the ongoing battle for health reform.

The Center for Public Integrity is a non-profit, independent investigative news outlet. A list of its funders can be found here. For more of its stories on this topic go to