As election looms, Americans are set to decide future of health reform

Is America really ready to turn back the clock on healthcare reform?

That question will be one of many confronting voters when they stand in the voting booth Nov. 6 and choose between President Obama — effectively endorsing his sweeping, if incomplete, overhaul of the nation’s vastly expensive and semi-dysfunctional health system — or his equally determined rival, Mitt Romney. The former Massachusetts governor has sworn he’ll begin working to kill the Obama-era health reforms on his first day in office if elected president.

There’s every reason to believe him. Despite the fact that Romney as governor once oversaw an expansion of healthcare coverage with his own Massachusetts health reform law in 2006 — and despite the similarities between Romneycare and Obamacare — the Republican candidate has become a fierce opponent of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

In so doing, “Romney has walked a tightrope on healthcare reform throughout the presidential campaign. He's unwilling to shun his Massachusetts law but vows to repeal ‘Obamacare,’ which is largely based on the Bay State's reforms of the health insurance market,” argued Jeffrey Young, who writes for the liberal-leaning Huffington Post.

Romney, for his part, attacks Obama’s signature health-reform overhaul as too expensive and too much of a government intrusion on patients, providers and insurers. “We didn’t raise taxes” to reform the system in the Bay State, he told moderator Jim Lehrer during the first presidential debate in Denver, and “we didn’t put in place a board that can tell people ultimately what treatments they can receive” while extending health benefits.

Romney has asserted repeatedly that he has a plan, if the Affordable Care Act is repealed, to protect people with pre-existing conditions who might be unable to obtain health coverage by insurance companies, based on the Massachusetts model. But one of the candidate’s advisers indicated to Eric Fehrnstrom, a reporter for online news source Talking Points Memo, that guaranteed coverage would be left up to the states, rather than a federal mandate, if Obamacare is overturned.

The question is, are Americans familiar enough at this point with the basic provisions of Obamacare to decide on its fate in the polling place? And are they willing to give up on some elements of health reform they might already consider as beneficial or even critically important, like guaranteed coverage despite pre-existing conditions, a cap on out-of-pocket costs and extension of family coverage for their kids up to age 26?

That question has become more relevant as the administration continues its steady rollout of the Affordable Care Act, which is due for full implementation in 2014. According to one study from BusinessOne Technologies, a healthcare technology and data company, the ACA is already significantly boosting health insurance coverage, with 13 million more Americans gaining coverage between January 2011 and June 2012.

Researchers cite “healthcare-reform measures that are increasing access ahead of the planned 2014 rollout of the healthcare-reform law's individual mandate,” according to Drug Store News’ Alaric DeArment. Among those measures: “coverage of dependent children and adults up to the age of 26 years, tax credits for small businesses and early Medicaid expansion in some states.”

Will Obamacare work as a long-term fix to the country’s increasingly unsustainable and costly health system, and to the problem of tens of millions of uninsured Americans? Or does Gov. Romney offer a better and more realistic solution? As always, we welcome your feedback.