For many Americans, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), or "Obamacare" as it is more commonly known, will be a primary issue for many on Election Day, regardless of individual political leanings.
On Thursday, Dr. Theda Skocpol, the Victor S. Thomas Professor of Government and Sociology at Harvard University, spoke at the Howard H. Baker, Jr. Center about the PPACA, including common misconceptions about the law and the effect the law would have in the years to come.
Skocpol outlined what she considers to be the three most important things the PPACA does, citing changes to the laws which insurance companies have to follow as the most important.
"The most important thing Affordable Care does is to create new rules of the game for private insurance companies," Skocpol said. "They still get to make a profit, but they need to do it not by avoiding sick patients or shedding sick patients, but by finding ways to improve the quality and efficiency and lower the cost of health care coverage."
The other two most important aspects of PPACA, Skocpol said, are expansions of affordable coverage through Medicaid and individual states' ability to set up a "comparison shopping marketplace" where individuals or businesses will be able to compare the terms and costs of insurance before buying.
Skocpol then discussed the fact that the PPACA was passed by a bare majority and the effect that has had on the public's perception of the law.
"It created what we have seen ever since, which is a public opinion disconnect about this law," she said. "If and when pollsters go out and ask Americans about specific parts of the law ... those are all wildly popular. They get about 70 to 90 percent approval."
However, there is one part of the law that does not get such universal approval — the individual mandate rule.
"(The individual mandate) says that if you are one of the two out of a hundred Americans left over after this law is fully implemented who doesn't have insurance," Skocpol explained, "you will have to either buy a private insurance plan or pay a small fine. That's what the individual mandate is."
She continued, "It's not going to hit very many people, and the fine is so small that many of those who are conscientiously opposed to private health insurance will just pay the fine. The IRS is not allowed to enforce the fine if they don't pay."
Many of the students attending the lecture were glad that parts of PPACA were clarified, such as Rachel Townsend, freshman in communications, who attended the lecture.
"I learned a lot of stuff that I definitely didn't know beforehand," Townsend said. "I'm glad that she clarified a few things for me so that way I know a little bit more about it going into the election on Tuesday."
"She is somebody that is an expert," John Dickey, graduate student in political science, said. "It was quite interesting, based upon what she brought to the table. I'm glad that we were able to bring her in."
Skocpol's speech was given at the Third Annual Anne Mayhew Distinguished Honors Lecture. This lecture series recognizes economic historian Anne Mayhew, who was also the first woman to serve at UT as chair of the Department of Economics, Dean of the Graduate School and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs.