January 28, 2012

Another View: Early signs show business is accepting Affordable Care Act

The experiences of health-care providers and insurers don't match distorted predictions.

St. Louis Post Dispatch

The legal bees may be busy at the U.S. Supreme Court preparing for March's oral arguments over the legality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, but there's no question that health-care reform so far has been good for the major players of the health-care industry.

Notwithstanding a fourth quarter that was less profitable than expected, health insurer WellPoint Inc. said Tuesday that it netted about $2.6 billion in 2011, the first full year since the Affordable Care Act became law.

A week earlier, UnitedHealth Group Inc., the nation's largest health insurance provider, said it took in more than $100 billion in 2011 and had more than $5.1 billion left in net income.

As the justices assess the law's compatibility with the commerce clause of the Constitution, they should note how well the private sector has adapted to the law. They also should credit ordinary Americans' embrace of elements of the law that have been phased in and discount the distortions of ideological zealots at the fringes.

This year will see the phasing in of provisions aimed at improving the quality of care people receive. Some elements of the law, for example, provide incentives to expand successful pilot programs that have reduced harm to patients and cut costs by reducing easily avoided medical mistakes.

Another major thrust of the law for 2012 is to identify the most effective treatments and medications for a variety of illnesses and conditions and then develop procedures to ensure those are what patients receive.

The law is by no means a perfect remedy; we're not sure, for example, how high profits for insurance companies contribute to the nation's health. But the law is a major step forward – as Americans, health-care providers and insurers are discovering.

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