Perhaps the greatest success after 12 years of the Affordable Care Act is what American leaders have told the American people: you have a right to affordable health care.
Those who are able to work and earn an income still don’t get anything for free. But at least families no longer have to choose between mom’s cancer treatment and bankruptcy. Remember those days? They weren’t long ago, but they’re mostly gone now.
Some 31 million Americans, or about 9% of the population, now enjoy affordable health care, either through subsidized policies on the HealthCare.gov website or through a Medicaid expansion for those who do not earn enough to meet their basic needs. In Minnesota alone, 335,787 people were covered by the ACA.
The 31 million covered is a record, surpassing the typical enrollment rate of 26-27 million in recent years. The total also doesn’t reflect students who could stay on their parents’ plan until age 26, another important benefit of the ACA. Healthaffairs.org estimates that this provision covers an additional 3 million.
And when subsidies for purchasing health care through the ACA were cut during the pandemic, an additional 1 million people signed up.
While Republicans staunchly opposed passage of the ACA in 2010 and have tried to kill it ever since — a goal thwarted by Patriot Republican Senator John McCain who voted against its elimination — the idea has been embraced by bigwigs. past Republican presidents like Theodore Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower.
The ACA became a right, just 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 ended the inequity of the American health care system, which served those who could afford it, leaving others to deal with their illness, maternal mortality, and cancers and just “resist.” It has become the hidden indignity of Americans, to die losing everything you worked for to pay your medical bills, leaving nothing for your surviving family members.
Nearly 15% of Americans were uninsured before the ACA took effect. That number is now 9% and would be lower if 12 states had accepted federal funds to fund Medicaid expansions. Minnesota’s uninsured rate is about 5%.
While the public opposed the ACA when it was proposed, President Barack Obama and Democrats persisted. They were right to believe that once people understood ACA, they would embrace it.
And indeed, Americans are in favor of the ACA. Some 55% of Americans have a favorable opinion of the ACA while 42% have an unfavorable opinion, according to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll.
The ACA likely saved billions of dollars in health care costs in the United States and helped keep insurance premiums low by giving people the preventative 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 celebrate the ACA as President Joe Biden and Obama did on Tuesday.
In a country that increasingly has a political system driven by vested interests, the Affordable Care Act was a victory of the people, by the people, and for the people.