The ACA: From C-SPAN to Sea Change

By Kelley Butler

Feb. 23, 2015

I’m a lifelong political junkie, be it by nature or nurture. A native daughter of the nation’s capital, I grew up going on field trips to the Capitol, White House and Supreme Court. You could argue that a love of politics was predestined.

So, I’ll always remember that on March 21, 2010, I felt like a kid on Christmas Eve waiting for Santa Claus — glued to C-SPAN waiting to see if the House would pass the Senate version of the health care reform bill. I was the editor in chief of Employee Benefit News; technically, watching the night’s events was part of my job. Truth be told, I would’ve watched to the end regardless.

When the bill passed that night by seven votes, my husband glanced at the TV over my shoulder and said, “You have to go to work now, don’t you?” I nodded, and went to grab my laptop.

We covered the bill’s passage for EBN the next day — coverage that coincidentally included comments from my current employer, Benz Communications. When President Barack Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law two days later, I remember thinking, “This changes everything.”

Now, there’s an understatement if there ever was one, right?

It’s hard to believe that five years have since passed, with the ACA surviving charges of death panels, chair-tossing town-hall sessions, more than 40 repeal votes and a major Supreme Court challenge.

It was electric, albeit exhausting, to be in D.C. during those months and years. I recall one of my reporters getting elbowed out of her sight line at the Supreme Court by an ABC cameraman. She’d arrived! I remember editing video interviews from outside the chamber and compiling photo galleries of the various protests around the city. Most clearly, I remember the hot day in June 2012 when the Supreme Court ruling was announced, and getting an email from a staffer that read, “This is the most exciting thing I’ve ever done. Thank you for letting me be part of it.”

What has the benefit of hindsight given me since then? Not much in the way of clarity, perhaps too much in complexity. I know you can more than relate to the complexities that the ACA has brought, as you’ve spent the past five years working to comply with the law and communicate it to your workforce.

In general, though, how I view the ACA now mostly is unchanged from how I viewed it then, which, in excerpt, is this:

“I think ACA is largely a bad law. Certainly, ACA contains some provisions that I like a lot. I’m quite pleased that I’ll no longer be charged higher health care premiums simply for being born a girl … that friends with chronically ill children won’t have to worry about benefit caps … that a friend recently treated for cancer won’t have to worry about being denied coverage down the road due to a pre-existing condition.

“Still, my biggest reservations about the legislation were that it did very little (if anything) to address our nation’s ridiculously high health care costs and even less to improve efficiency and quality.

“We still pay more in health care than any industrialized nation and get less for our money’s worth. Our health care system is overburdened with too much paper, too much testing, and too much obesity. Those things are just as true today as they were before ACA was upheld, before March 2010 when ACA was signed, and they’ll be just as true in 2014, when much of ACA goes into full effect.”

Not to toot my own horn and change my name to Kreskin, but just weeks ago, Steven Brill, author of Time magazine’s famous “America’s Bitter Pill” cover story and a new book also on the topic of health care costs, told talk show host Jon Stewart: “Nothing in the 965 pages of the Affordable Care Act does anything about the exorbitant cost of care. The problem with health care in this country is very simple: The cost is too damn high.”

So, the past five years have been for nothing? No, I don’t think so. In approving and upholding the ACA, we now have our first-ever national health care policy. It’s not a great one, but at least it’s a starting point; somewhere, I think there’s good policy. We just have to do the work to find it.

Kelley M. Butler is the editorial director at Benz Communications, an HR/benefits communication strategy firm. Before joining Benz, Butler spent 11 years at Employee Benefit News, including seven as editor in chief. To comment, email

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