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At the Six Month Anniversary of the ACA, Fear and Anxiety Give Way to Information and Compassion

By Dr. Zaneb Beams

We’ve been living in a terrifying world, when it comes to health care. It is next to impossible for people with multiple graduate degrees in various fields to decipher letters from HMO’s , PPO’s, and EPO’s (whatever those are….) Currently, coverage is unpredictable and unreliable.

Dealing with insurance companies is like being in a horror movie. You can’t really see what’s going on. Unexpected disasters lurk in long shadows behind every doorway. The sense of impending doom infuses mundane experiences, like babysitting, or swimming in the ocean.

In reality, Health Care Reform is a lot more like a PBS documentary than your average Halloween thriller.

We’ve outgrown the fear mongering about “death panels” and even the more widespread concern about “government bureaucrats” intervening in health care conversations between physicians and patients. But discussions about the Patient Protection And Affordable Care Act of 2010 still tend toward the trope of the season; ghost stories and horror flicks. Articles about death panels and loss of coverage like the one in the Washington Post a year ago, are rare today- but people are still afraid. 

Fear of losing one’s doctor and being forced to see a “government appointed” physician, or fear of not being able to take the best medicine or have EKG’s or mammograms when indicated, dominate Health Care Reform conversations with senior citizens. In a presentation last week, I listened to rapid fire questions: “What exactly do they mean when they say ‘preventive care’?” and “How am I going to pay for my brand name medicines?” and “If you’ve had a bypass can you still get an EKG every six months?”

The simple fact is these questions are very specific to each individual, as are the health care decisions we physicians make with our patients and their families every day. In the next few years, Medical and public health experts, and everyday folks, will work out the details. Maryland, my home state, has a Health Care Reform Coordinating Council, dedicated to implementing the new Health Care Reform law at the state level. It’s open to the public, and it’s where we’ll answer questions like the ones I was asked at the Senior Center last week.

The fact is that under the new law:

  • Recommended preventive care will be covered without co-pays or deductibles.
  • Prescription drug coverage will improve over the next 4 years.
  • Mistakes in payment will decrease.
  • Coverage is expanded.
  • Medical decisions will be more evidence-based, and therefore more helpful.

That’s a lot less scary than the horrifying scenarios presented in the press a year ago. Now that Health Care Reform is the law, we hear a lot less about it. Only six months after passage, and there are no more cover stories about a government takeover of health care, no more prime time news clips about grandma going in front of “death panels”. There’s really not a lot of public discussion about the law, because six months later, all those fears have already been proven untrue.

This Halloween, opponents of Health Care Reform can put away their martian masks and their zombie makeup. It’s time to get out the spreadsheets and stethoscopes. Over the next four years, information and compassion, instead of fear, will dominate conversations about Health Care Reform.

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