Consumer health advocates continue work on health coverage at the Families USA Conference – National Consumers League

With only 60 days left for consumers to enroll in the Health Care Marketplace, I joined health care advocates from across the country to hear from healthcare experts at the annual Families USA conference.  Keynote speaker, Vice President Joe Biden, opened the conference with rousing words stating, “Now for the first time, health care coverage for all, is the law of the land.”

The law is a testament to the power of advocates and others, who worked tirelessly to secure this basic right for Americans.

Vice President Biden kicked off the conference with a challenge to remember what life was like before the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) – when pregnancy was a pre-existing condition, young adults were kicked off their parents’ health plan, lifetime dollar limits were in effect, and patients could be denied coverage because of a pre-existing condition.  Americans no longer go to sleep at night worrying that if a family member gets sick, they might lose their house, their savings, and go bankrupt due to high medical bills and inadequate health insurance. “It is not just about physical health coverage anymore, but about peace of mind,” said Biden.

Many speakers, including Biden, noted that the conversation about health care has changed.  Instead of talking about health care as a privilege, it’s now agreed that health care is a right everyone deserves access to.  People who previously had no access to preventive care are going to the doctor and getting much needed care as a result of the ACA.

However, the conversation needs to shift to making sure this law works.  The current challenge, as we all know, is getting people enrolled.  As Ezra Klein of The Washington Post noted, “The problem will not be if the website is working properly, the problem will be that some people don’t even have a computer to access a website.” We will need to make sure those populations on the fringe are able to enroll and benefit from the health law.

Kentucky was held up as an example of what can happen when a state opens up its own exchange and recognizes the value of ensuring all its citizens have health insurance. Ranked at the bottom of most national health statistics, Kentucky decided that this was an opportune time to improve its citizens’ health by putting the people before politics. Kentucky is the only southern state to expand Medicaid and open a state-based exchange.  This decision meant providing coverage to nearly 640,000 uninsured people in the state. Expanding Medicaid allows those people who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid and too little to enter into the Marketplace access to coverage under the law. Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear stated that an independent analysis proved that expanding Medicaid will inject over $16 billion into Kentucky’s economy over the next 8 years and create at least 17,000 new jobs. It is clearly a win-win situation.

“The time for politics is over,” proclaimed Klein.  Over 3 million have signed up for private plans through federal and state exchanges as of January 24.  It is expected that a million more will be signing up in January.   As Biden noted, the “ACA is the most consequential piece of legislation” in decades.  Let’s make it work.