The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is one of the most monumental bills passed in the United States in the last decade and is the single largest change to the health care system since the passage of Medicaid and Medicare in 1965. Its purpose is to fundamentally alter the U.S. health care system by expanding affordable and quality health care services to the uninsured.

Affordable Care Act – The basics

An estimated 30 million people in the U.S. are expected to acquire health insurance due to the Affordable Care Act. The ACA has also given special attention to pain conditions, taking steps to coordinate actions to make life easier for those afflicted.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, better known as the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare, was signed into law on March 23, 2010. Under the Act, hospitals and physicians are required to reform certain practices to create better health outcomes, decrease costs, and to allow for better access to those in need.

Some of the key benefits the Affordable Care Act provides to all U.S. citizens are:

  • If you have health insurance, you get many additional rights and privileges, such as no lifetime or annual limits on healthcare, additional protections and care for seniors, no out-of-pocket costs for preventative services, and many others.
  • No discrimination on gender or health status. Insurance companies can no longer change costs depending on factors like age or gender and it limits greatly the ability of these companies to vary their pricing per person. It also prevents these companies from denying insurance to those with preexisting conditions.
  • It creates a competitive health insurance market place that gives the average person the power to easily compare plans and receive assistance on paying for some services.
  • It drastically reduces the national deficit by curtailing wasteful government spending and reducing fraud and abuse.

According to Gallup, the number of uninsured adults had dropped over 6% since the ACA was fully enacted in 2013, bringing this rate to 11%, the lowest it has been since the turn of the millennium. This Act has also greatly reduced racial and ethnic health disparities by increasing coverage for African-Americans and Latinos, who are historically underserved. This data shows that the ACA has made substantial progress on one of its intended goals, which was to provide affordable health care to the underprivileged in U.S. However, there is still resistance in many states to the ACA, and it still has additional trials and challenges to overcome in the future.

How the Affordable Care Act helps those with chronic pain

116 million adults in the U.S. are affected by a chronic pain condition, which is more than heart disease, cancer, and diabetes combined. With this in mind, the Affordable Care Act has taken special care to help those who suffer from chronic pain. The ACA provides those battling chronic pain with additional pain management benefits, such as prescription drug coverage, emergency care, and access to mental health services.

There are also three main provisions drafted to directly address understanding and improving evidence-based care for pain management.

Section 4305

The Health and Human Services (HHS) federal agency is required to partner with the Institute of Medicine (IOM) to convene the “Conference on Pain.” This conference is mandated to focus on:

  • Evaluating pain-related care and treatments for the U.S. population and other subgroups
  • Increasing the recognition of pain as a public health problem
  • Identifying road blocks to pain care
  • Creating an agenda that will reduce barriers as well as improve pain research, education, and care in both the public and private sectors

This conference culminated in an in-depth report that created a blueprint that prioritized the IOM’s recommendations. Overall, this report called for cultural transformation towards pain and how it should be viewed in the public eye. As stated by Lawrence A. Tabak, D.D.S., Ph.D Principal Deputy Director of the National Institutes of Health:

“…recognition of chronic pain as a disease, together with an increased understanding of the maladaptive physiological and psychological changes that underlie the persistence of pain, has important implications for how we study pain, treat pain, and structure our health care systems to provide care to patients suffering from pain.”

Section 409J

This section creates the Interagency Pain Research Coordinating Committee (IPRCC) to facilitate all pain-related research throughout all federal agencies. The committee’s purpose is to:

  • Develop an outline of all the medical advances in pain care research, specifically, the breakthroughs that relate to the diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of pain
  • Identify the current research gaps and duplicative efforts on the symptoms and causes of pain
  • Provide guidance on how to best get information on pain care out to the general population as well as to medical care providers
  • Make recommendations on how to expand partnerships between public and private entities

The IPRCC, in response to the IOM report, created a national pain strategy that focused on reducing the burden of pain for individuals, their families, and society as a whole. This plan encompasses a myriad of objectives from better understanding pain to improved prevention and care to professional education and training.

Section 759

This section allows the secretary of the HHS to:

“make awards of grants, cooperative agreements, and contracts to health professions schools, hospices, and other public and private entities for the development and implementation of programs to provide education and training to health care professionals in pain care.”

How has the Affordable Care Act affected your access to care?

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