The biggest success after 12 years of the Affordable Care Act may be in what American leaders said to the American people: you have a right to affordable health care.
Those who are able to work and earn income still don’t get anything free. But at least now families don’t have to choose between mom’s cancer treatment and bankruptcy. Remember those days? They were not long ago, but they are mostly gone now.
Some 31 million Americans, about 9% of the population, now have affordable health care, either through subsidized policies on the HealthCare.gov website or through an expansion of Medicaid for those who don’t earn enough to support their basic needs. In Minnesota alone, 335,787 people have gained coverage through the ACA.
The 31 million covered is a record high, besting the typical enrollment of 26 million to 27 million over the last few years. The total also does not reflect students who could stay on their parents’ plan until age 26, another big ACA benefit. Healthaffairs.org estimates that provision covers another 3 million.
And when the subsidies for buying health care through ACA were lowered during the pandemic, another 1 million signed up.
While Republicans resoundingly opposed passage of the ACA in 2010 and tried to kill it ever since — a goal thwarted by the patriot Republican Sen. John McCain who voted against killing it — the idea was embraced by such great Republican presidents of the past as Theodore Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower.
The ACA became a right, as Social Security became a right under President Franklin Roosevelt in 1935 and Medicare became a right under President Lyndon Johnson in 1965.
The ACA tore down the inequity in US healthcare system, which served those who could afford it, leaving the rest to deal with their sickness, maternal mortality and cancers and just “tough it out.” It became Americans’ hidden indignity, to die losing everything you worked for paying medical bills, leaving nothing for surviving family members.
Nearly 15 percent of Americans were uninsured before the ACA took effect. That number is now 9 percent and would be lower if 12 states had accepted federal funds to fund Medicaid expansions. Minnesota’s uninsured rate is around 5 percent.
While the public opposed the ACA when proposed, President Barack Obama and Democrats persisted. They were right in believing that once people understood the ACA, they would embrace it.
And indeed Americans do favor the ACA. Some 55 percent of Americans have a favorable view of the ACA while 42 percent have an unfavorable view, according to a recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation.
The ACA likely saved billions in US healthcare costs and helped keep insurance premiums low by getting people the preventive care they needed and avoiding costly trips to the emergency room, where, under US law, they must be served even if they have no way to pay .
So by all means, we should be celebrating the ACA as President Joe Biden and Obama did last week.
In a country that more and more has a political system driven by special interests, the Affordable Care Act was a win of the people, by the people and for the people.
— The Mankato (Minnesota) Free Press