On March 23, 2010, in landmark legislation, President Barack Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) into law. For the first time, Americans joined the rest of the developed world in hopes the law would bring us closer to realizing a health system where quality, affordable healthcare is available for all, and not a luxury for the privileged few. This sweeping overhaul of our healthcare system was met with mixed emotions: Democrats felt that the work of generations to see universal health care provided was finally fulfilled; the Republican party called it “Obamacare and railed about its many ills.
In the years since that historic day, those partisan sentiments persist. But despite a roller coaster of triumphs and setbacks, the ACA has been a huge success; millions had access to health care and in regions where pent-up demand was particularly acute – rural and urban areas alike.
The early leaders of the National Consumers League – from Florence Kelley to Frances Perkins – strongly supported health care for all Americans, so Obamacare was a fulfillment of our earliest agenda. And Obamacare, despite efforts to destroy its protections is the law of the land. The way health care is accessed and delivered in this country has been has been forever changed—most would say for the better. The ACA ushered in a new era in which comprehensive health coverage is finally within reach for millions of Americans who had been forgotten for way too long. And so today, this eighth anniversary of President Obama putting pen to paper, we acknowledge the ways the ACA has improved our health system. And we have no intention of going back.
Before the ACA was passed, the health insurance landscape looked significantly different. One in four Americans either lacked insurance or was underinsured, sick patients could be turned down for coverage because of pre-existing conditions, plans could charge women more than men for no reason other than their gender, and the cost of insurance was outpacing Americans’ incomes. In short, our health system was about as lawless as the Wild West. With the passage of the ACA, sweeping reforms not only outlawed many of the predatory and exclusionary practices that permeated our health care system, but expanded access to coverage and established a list of ten basic services that all health plans were mandated to meet.
Today, more consumers than ever before can get the care they need when they need it. Because of the ACA, nearly 20 million more Americans have gained health insurance. One of the primary ways the ACA achieved this was through the expansion of Medicaid, which extended coverage to millions of previously uninsured low-income individuals. The ACA also permitted young adults to stay on their parents’ insurance until age 26. Perhaps one of the most popular signature features of the ACA is the 10 Essential Health Benefits, including contraception, maternity care, mental health services, prescription drug coverage, and other services that all plans are mandated to provide. Other benefits and consumer protections we can thank the ACA for include a ban on lifetime coverage limits; the abolition of the “gender rating” practice, which allowed plans to charge women more than men; cost-sharing subsidies to help low-income Americans afford their coverage; the elimination of out-of-pocket costs for preventive care services such as immunizations, contraception, and cancer screenings; and a guarantee that an individual cannot be denied coverage or charged more because of a pre-existing condition.
Now of course it’s no secret that the Affordable Care Act has taken a beating. Despite a myriad of unsuccessful attempts by the Republicans to repeal and replace the ACA since its inception, the Trump Administration has made it a point to use whatever regulatory options are available to dismantle the ACA in any way it can. Though tribal loyalty within Congress has intensified exponentially in recent years, it’s time to put partisan politics aside and put the well-being of the American people first. Is the Affordable Care Act perfect? No. Is there room for improvement? Of course. But rather than tearing it apart, Republicans and Democrats should come together and strategize on how we can work together to strengthen and improve the ACA to better serve everyone.
At the White House signing ceremony in 2010, President Obama said in reference to the passage of the ACA, ” Our presence here today is remarkable and improbable. It’s been easy at times to doubt our ability to do such a big thing, such a complicated thing, to wonder if there are limits to what we as a people can still achieve. But today we are affirming that essential truth…that we are not a nation that scales back its aspirations. We are a nation that does what is hard, what is necessary, what is right. Here in this country, we shape our own destiny.” And so even in these topsy-turvy political times, when it may seem that the protections we hold most dear are under attack and the progress we have made is at risk of being undone, we must remember that when we stand together, anything is possible – no matter how big, complicated, or improbable. The power of the people has always been stronger than the people in power and we have shown, particularly in the efforts to protect the Affordable Care Act, just how powerful we are. It is this spirit that vitalized advocates and everyday citizens to demand something better from our healthcare system, this spirit that saw the Affordable Care Act through to fruition, and the same spirit that will embolden us to defend it in the days ahead. And while we will continue to be steadfast in the fight to protect our care, today, we take a moment to celebrate how Obamacare revolutionized America’s health care system, provided access to health care for millions of underserved Americans in need, and has shown how fundamental it is for a nation with America’s riches to provide health care to all.