All parents know the unique feeling of helplessness that comes from watching your children lying sick in bed, aware that you have no way to ease their discomfort. In those moments, nothing mattered more to me than ensuring my sons received whatever care they needed. There’s a reason medical issues have historically been the number one cause of bankruptcy in America. If I had been told seeing my son healthy again meant I had to pay everything I had, forcing me into bankruptcy and massive debt, I would have done it.
Think simply having insurance would have been enough to stave off bankruptcy? Think again. Until very recently, ultra-high deductible or ultra-low benefit plans would still have left millions of supposedly insured Americans without adequate coverage.
Now, thanks to some of the good reforms included in the Affordable Care Act, insurance companies have to apply more of our premiums to actual medical care and less to overhead. They have to include essential services in their plans – services such as hospitalization, prescription coverage, laboratory testing, maternity coverage, and physical rehabilitation, to name a few. They can’t charge women higher premiums than men. And they can’t deny or cancel coverage because of a preexisting condition.
Let’s be clear about what this means. These reforms are going to save lives and money. They’re refocusing our health care system onto what actually matters: providing health care based on the needs of patients and the advice of doctors instead of spreadsheets, corporate bureaucracy, and blinding greed. I’ll be leaving my job later this year to focus on my run for Congress full-time, and I’m grateful that these reforms will be in place when I sign myself up for coverage.
On New Year’s Day, over six million Americans began receiving health insurance, either through private insurers or state-run Medicaid programs. All told, that’s more people than live in 31 states. If we add in children who are able to remain on their parents’ plans, and people with preexisting conditions who couldn’t have gotten covered before the Affordable Care Act, that number would be closer to ten million Americans with new coverage.
(We should also note that most states where Tea Party factions have taken control of legislatures or the governor’s mansion have declined to use federal funds to expand their own Medicaid programs, simply because they don’t like the President. Their spite means another five million Americans are uninsured who could have had coverage.)
When we talk about the problems with Obamacare—and there are certainly problems, from the inexcusable implementation of the federal exchanges to the unnecessary taxes placed on medical devices—we can’t ignore the fact that, before the law, tens of millions of Americans were left completely uncovered, with many more underinsured, knowing that just one illness or accident could mean the difference between living a middle-class lifestyle and declaring bankruptcy.
We can’t tell millions of families that they must go back to that degree of uncertainty. It would be bad policy, but, more than that, it’s just cruel.
Of course, not everybody knows what it’s like to live on the edge of that precipice. Take Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-Richvale), my opponent in this upcoming election. Last month, he asked during a forum, “For the love of God, why can’t we slow this down and go back and relieve everybody of this?”
I was stunned to hear someone—even someone rich enough that he’ll never have to worry about health-related bankruptcy—declare that going back to nearly 50 million uninsured Americans, exclusions for preexisting conditions, and higher premiums for women would be a relief. At most, it would be the fleeting “relief” one might feel in that brief moment after jumping out of a frying pan and before seeing the fire ahead.
That’s really the choice we have in 2014: do we want to go back to an intolerable system, or do we want to fix what’s broken and keep moving forward?
Personally, I can’t accept taking working families back to where they were just a few years ago. But I also don’t accept that simply passing and implementing the Affordable Care Act can be the end of the discussion. Both sides in Washington need to understand that there is still a lot to be done to make Obamacare work for all Americans. I will work with anyone who sincerely wants to improve this law. But those who simply bang the table and scream “repeal!” are really no different from those who’d say the law is fine the way it is, because both are really interested in doing nothing.
Maybe that’s good enough for career politicians and the Beltway media set, but Californians deserve better.
Heidi Hall lives in Grass Valley and is the Democratic Congressional candidate for District 1. More information can be found at www.heidihallforcongress.com.