As President Obama and America move forward with full implementation of the Affordable Care Act, this nation continues to be embroiled in the fundamental struggle for human dignity that Dr. King addressed at the Lincoln Memorial 50 years ago.
Although the President did not stress this historic perspective during his seminal remarks on economic renewal at Knox College last week, he made it clear that the movement to assure affordable health care for every American is a moral, as well as economic, imperative.
The President believes, as do I, that the harsh reality of too many Americans’ dying before their time – or being crushed economically by uninsured accidents or illness – is within our ability to overcome.
Both our morality and practicality demand reform. These reforms, in turn, are a logical progression in Dr. King’s vision of an America in which everyone counts.
For decades now, this nation has experimented with “trickle-down economics.” The results of that experiment are in, and, for America’s middle class, that top-down vision has failed.
That reality, more than any other factor, is why Americans voted for President Obama and progressive members of Congress in 2008 and 2012. They voted for policies that will expand our prosperity outward from the middle class – rather than downward from most wealthy and powerful of our society.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) that a Democratic Congress passed, President Obama signed into law, and the U.S. Supreme Court upheld is a core component of our progressive response to the public outcry for change. It already is making a difference in people’s lives.
During the last three years, due to the ACA, 6.6 million young adults up to age 26 have obtained insurance through their parents’ plans; 6.3 million people with Medicare have saved over $6.1 billion on their prescription drugs, and 34 million have received a free preventive service.
Notwithstanding the political hype from opponents, these are real, practical and well-deserved contributions to people’s lives. Now, our challenge is to successfully implement the next stage of health insurance reform.
On Oct. 1, less than two months from now, we will begin open enrollment in the ACA’s new Health Insurance Marketplaces. Americans who are looking for new, better or more affordable health coverage will have the opportunity to choose quality health insurance coverage from numerous private health plans.
Those who qualify will be able to sign up for expanded Medicaid coverage. Those whose income is a little higher will be able to receive sliding-scale premium tax credits to make their coverage more affordable. Small businesses will obtain help in insuring their employees.
For the public’s convenience, these Health Insurance Marketplaces will be accessible to both consumers and employers through a centralized federal website (www.HealthCare.gov). Here in Maryland, our marketplace will provide direct local access, including HealthCare Access Maryland (www.healthcareaccessmaryland.org) and Healthy Howard (www.healthyhowardmd.org).
These on-line marketplaces, along with the convenience and expanded competition among insurers that they will provide, are important practical elements in advancing our progressive vision. Another is the increased federal support to Maryland’s Federally Qualified Community Health Centers.
On July 10, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced $1.6 million in grant awards to help Maryland health centers enroll the uninsured in their new ACA health coverage options. That outreach effort will be critical to the nearly 300,000 patients served last year, one-quarter of whom were uninsured.
For those of us who believe in the vision of an America in which everyone counts, it is important that each of us know the facts about our progress toward full ACA implementation. As the President noted in his Knox College speech, there are those who are actively working to assure that the reforms fail.
Along with my Democratic colleagues, I will continue to do my part in setting the record straight, both for the general public and for small business owners who now will be able to afford health insurance for their employees. I hope and trust that we all will do the same, helping friends and family members obtain the health insurance that they so desperately need to thrive and survive.
Five decades after Dr. King cried out for jobs and freedom, our challenge to America remains the same.
We are in this life together. Every American must count.
Congressman Elijah Cummings represents Maryland's Seventh Congressional District in the U.S. House.