It was a typical Wednesday afternoon in the clinic where I work as a family physician when my front desk office staff came to me asking that I come to the waiting room. “There is a patient who is insisting that she sees you right away.”
In the waiting room was a vibrant lady in her 60s whom I provided care to several months before, and she was surrounded by her family and friends of at least a dozen people. My patient quickly came up to hug me when she saw me walk into the waiting room. She proceeded to tell everyone in the waiting room how “this is the doctor who saved my life!”
Her loved ones approached me as a group to offer gratitude for saving their mother, aunt, cousin, wife, best friend, daughter, and sister.
The initial visit with me was her first time seeing a doctor, and it was not an atypical visit. Due to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act also known as “Obamacare,” she was able to afford an annual preventive exam, which is covered at 100 percent without her having to cover a copay, deductible, or coinsurance.
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Routine things were performed at that visit which were recommended for her age, including her first screening mammogram, pap smear for cervical cancer screening, and colonoscopy.
Due to the early detection and rapid intervention, she is currently in remission from stage 1 breast cancer. She has since been able to return to her job and live a normal life.
Since the enactment of Obamacare in 2010, it has expanded medical insurance coverage and health care access to millions of Americans. Obamacare is good for America’s healthcare and good for our community.
Washington state’s health insurance exchange website enrolled over 170,000 residents as of July 2015, which was the same as the number of Washingtonians who have coverage through the private market. Washington managed to cut the uninsured rate in the state from 14 percent in 2013 to less than 9 percent in 2015.
The latest enrollment period ended on Jan. 31, and I hope that this downward trend continues.
Prior to Washingtonians having insurance, many were limited to getting medical care in the emergency room, whether it was for a cold, headache or chest pain. The overload of patients in the ER also meant longer wait times and possible lost wages when people took time away from work.
Due to the inconvenience, most people waited until their problem became unbearable, and sometimes it meant a disease progressed to its late stages. Many people generally avoid the emergency room, unless it is the only choice they have. With Medicaid eligibility expansion, minimum standards for health insurance policies, and subsidies for health insurance, more people are now able to manage their medical problems in the outpatient office setting through prevention and early treatment.
It’s not a surprise that U.S. healthcare costs are high and continue to rise. It is estimated that about $2.7 trillion is spent annually on health care, and about 20-30 percent goes to care that is wasteful and redundant.
Price transparency is an ongoing and difficult task in the health care industry. In Steven Brill’s Time cover story, he examined seven ER medical bills and found the ER has really high prices. The average ER visit now costs 40 percent more than a month’s rent!
Despite the apparent cost savings, increased prevention for chronic diseases, and access to healthcare for Americans, Obamacare does have a ways to go. Increased Medicaid expansion has brought lower reimbursements and higher patient volumes for providers.
Reforms to the Medicare payment system also brought about by Obamacare included provisions to promote greater efficiency through restructuring reimbursements. Currently changes are being made in many health care organizations so that payments for providers will be based on the value and quality of the care, not on volume.
This means more time spent with patient delivery appropriate meaningful care, which benefits all parties involved.
I remember being quite embarrassed when my patient and her family came to thank me in the waiting room that day. To me, she was just like any other patient that I would see that day. I would have recommended the same screening exams. However, without Obamacare and her access to health insurance, I probably would have never met her.
Lan Nguyen, a primary care physician practicing in Olympia, is a member of The Olympian's 2016 Board of Contributors. She may be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org