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JOHNSON: On four-year anniversary, health care reform delivers

On the four-year anniversary of the enactment of the Affordable Care Act, or health reform, it is clear the law has ushered in transformative changes to our nation’s health care system and has helped slow the growth of health care costs.

With the first Health Insurance Marketplace open enrollment period coming to a close, I am often reminded of why I supported this historic law. More than five million Americans have enrolled in coverage through the new marketplace over the past several months, and I continue to hear stories from South Dakotans who have benefited from these new affordable health insurance options.

When Deborah, from Sioux Falls, received notice that her health insurance would be canceled as of Dec. 31, 2013, she and her husband, George, were able to enroll in a health plan through the new Health Insurance Marketplace in South Dakota that offered better coverage at a much lower cost.

Deborah no longer finds herself having to pay the full out-of-pocket cost of a doctor’s visit, which wasn’t covered by her old plan. Before, her and her husband’s combined monthly premium payments were nearly $1,200. Now, with the help of a premium tax credit available through the Health Insurance Marketplace, Deborah and George pay a total monthly premium of $95, and pay a $10 copayment to visit the doctor. Additionally, Deborah no longer has to worry about having to pay more or be denied coverage for being pre-diabetic and having high blood pressure.

Peter, from Spearfish, qualified for a premium tax credit on the marketplace, which helped him enroll in a health insurance plan on for his family of four that cost $5,000 per year — half the cost of the family’s previous plan. While it took a little persistence to complete the process in the early part of the open enrollment period, Peter and his family now have more money in their pocket and are pleased with their health coverage, which began on Jan. 1.

While the Health Insurance Marketplace offers consumers affordable insurance coverage options, additional reforms in place under the law provide important consumer protections.

Chris and his wife, Karen, from Rapid City, can now rest assured knowing their young daughter who lives with Type 1 diabetes can no longer be denied coverage because of her pre-existing condition.

Young adults searching for that first job after college can take comfort in knowing they have health insurance through their parent’s plan until age 26. Seniors on Medicare will continue to benefit from free preventive screenings and have already saved on average $747 for prescription drugs because of health reform protections.

Some continue to call for repeal of the Affordable Care Act, but these efforts are short-sighted and would only raise premiums, end essential consumer protections and add to our deficit.

We cannot go back to a time when insurance companies were in charge and millions of Americans were unable to access affordable health care. In the four years that the Affordable Care Act has been law, thousands of South Dakotans and millions of Americans are now benefiting from new consumer protections and coverage options.

The Marketplace open enrollment period ended Monday. More than 6,700 South Dakotans have enrolled in a health plan through the marketplace, and more than 89 percent of those, like Deborah and Peter, have received premium assistance to help cover some of the costs.

As implementation continues in 2014 and beyond, I remain committed to ensuring all South Dakotans have access to meaningful, affordable health coverage.

­— Tim Johnson, a Democrat, is one of South Dakota’s U.S. senators.