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Letter: Changes from Obamacare are for the better

Thank God for Obamacare. To the extent that our Representative Jay McNamar is responsible for Obamacare (he really isn’t), thank God for Jay McNamar.

Since the later 1960s, federal health insurance has been available to the elderly and the very poor through Medicare and Medicaid. In the late 1990s, the federal health insurance safety net was expanded to include many more children through the CHIP program. Starting two years ago, Obamacare offered a way for young adults to gain coverage by letting them stay on their parent’s insurance until age 27.  Approximately 3 million young Americans became insured through that expansion alone.

Then came January 2014, and things changed for the rest of us. In last week’s paper, Jeff Backer, who somehow failed to mention that he is running for state representative, implied that things got worse. He is wrong.

To illustrate my point, please forgive me as I get personal: until January 1, 2014, I was completely uninsurable on the individual open market. I have a “pre-existing condition” that would have caused any insurance company to turn me away if I had applied for individual insurance. My situation is not rare. A 2012 GAO report estimated that 2.3 million Minnesota adults ages 19 to 64 have pre-existing conditions that would have limited or completely blocked their access to individual health insurance.

That didn’t mean that 2.3 million Minnesotans lacked health insurance. Most working age adults did, and will continue to, receive health insurance through their employers. What it did mean is that folks like me (and there are lot of folks like me in west central Minnesota) could get stuck if we wanted to switch jobs. Folks ready to retire were stuck because they were not old enough to qualify for Medicare. Countless potential entrepreneurs were thwarted because health insurance tied them to their jobs and they could not strike off on their own. And, most notably, millions of people with jobs that did not offer health insurance were left uninsured and uninsurable.

Now, thanks to Obamacare, pre-existing conditions won’t block access to health insurance. That is big deal. The Obamacare health exchange websites – both nationally and in Minnesota – got off to a famously poor start. That is unfortunate, annoying and inexcusable. Websites get fixed. The change those websites are part of will have staying power. That, Mr. Backer, is a good thing.