Affordable Care Act is about patient protection, not partisan protection

Ellen Zeng/Staff

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I woke up early last Thursday to a flurry of notifications on my phone. At first, I read the Supreme Court struck down the mandate of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) … five minutes later CNN posted the real story and apologized for its mistake. For the next 24 hours Facebook and other social media platforms were overwhelmed with links to news articles, memes and photographs celebrating or condemning the Supreme Court’s decision. It seemed as though the entire country was divided between Democrats hailing President Obama and Republicans vowing to repeal the legislation.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act must not be a weapon wielded by partisan interests. Instead of using this op-ed as a platform to preach along party lines for why this legislation is good for America, I want every reader to walk away with something more useful than partisan talking points. Yes, I’m a firm supporter of the Democratic Party and believe in its ideals, but I’ve become sick and tired of the polarized language surrounding such a small part of this piece of legislation. Both Democrats and Republicans who talk about the PPACA choose to focus only on the insurance mandate, forgetting the first two words in the title of the law are “Patient Protection.”

Sadly, many Americans don’t realize a majority of the PPACA deals with the provision of care. Less than 25 percent of it concerns the role and function of insurance, but because of the Supreme Court ruling and partisan focus, America has forgotten the human aspect of this legislation. Due to this lack of information, both parties have shielded Americans from beneficial parts of this law that will most likely never get the attention deserved. Below are a few of those provisions that any American, regardless of political affiliation, should be proud of. Like every landmark piece of legislation, there’s a lot for any interested citizen to learn. There will be parts to like and parts to hate, but all are attempts to improve our health care system that at some point will affect you personally. I hope this inspires you to begin exploring the 906 pages that make up the PPACA to read for yourself how our nation will change over the next few years.

Centers of Excellence for Depression

Following the steps taken in the war against cancer, the PPACA will provide new resources to develop “centers of excellence” for the treatment of depression. According to the National Network of Depression Centers, research of depression and bipolar illness receives only a one-fourth of the funding available in cancer research despite the fact that 21 million Americans, or about 9.5 percent of the U.S. population age 18 or older, suffer from depression. Unfortunately, that percentage is even higher for the population of U.S. college students. The American Psychological Association reports that nearly half of all college students report feeling so depressed at some point in time that they have trouble functioning. Suicide is the fourth-leading cause of death for Americans aged 18-65, but the second-leading cause of death for college students aged 18-24. The problem seems overwhelming and impossible to stop, but centers of excellence have the potential to offer huge solutions. Current centers around the country report 80 percent of patients treated for depression show an improvement in their symptoms within four to six weeks of beginning medication, therapy, or other medical approaches. The PPACA includes the creation of grants for up to 20 additional centers across the country the first year and 30 within the first five years of funding. With these additional resources, our health care system can better treat millions of Americans who live with depressive disorders.

Increasing the number of nurses

Nurses are the frontline of the U.S. health care system, but for years the number of nursing jobs has dwindled, sparking fear of a widespread shortage in the near future. Our health care system depends on nurses to deliver safe and quality services patients expect. A study by Vanderbilt University in 2009 showed that 6,700 patient deaths and 4 million days of hospital care could be averted annually by increasing the number of nurses because overwhelmed hospital staffs have a higher risk of medical errors and delays in care. In 2001, the National Advisory Council on Nurse Education and Practice reported that there will be 10,000 too few nurses to meet U.S. health care needs. These fears are not unwarranted: Years of weak federal financial help for nursing schools and students have plagued the industry. For example, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing reported in 2008 that 50,000 qualified applicants to professional nursing programs were turned away from schools, including up to 6,000 people seeking to earn master’s and doctoral degrees. Demand for a nursing career exists, but the supply of teachers doesn’t because a nurse with a graduate degree needed to teach earns around $68,000 compared to a practicing nurse who earns about $82,000 a year. The PPACA brings a whirlwind of desired reforms to increase the national nurse workforce though training programs, loan repayment and retention grants, including programs to increase faculty at schools through new scholarship and loan repayment programs.

Creating an Office of Women’s Health

The PPACA establishes an Office of Women’s Health within agencies of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) including the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to increase the inclusion of women in research on drugs and devices. Cardiovascular disease remains the leading cause of death for women in the United States, but FDA studies to prevent and manage the disease enroll on average only 33.9 percent women. Simply put, government studies don’t test enough women that reflect the proportion of women in our population who are affected by cardiovascular disease. Drugs and devices used to treat cardiovascular disease tested by the FDA affect women differently than men. Without the necessary enrollment of women in studies, it is unclear if results adequately reflect the efficiency and safety of devices and drugs currently in use by women. The PPACA has created this office to reform clinical trials and research to improve health care for women in America.

Daniel Tuchler is the president of the Cal Berkeley Democrats.