As the more extreme House Republicans threaten Armageddon unless we agree to defund the Affordable Care Act (or, as we now typically call it, “ObamaCare”), the Affordable Care Act is already making a positive difference in people’s lives.
We all know someone who now can obtain insurance, despite a pre-existing condition. As critical as this reform has been for the neighbors who are affected, many, many more of us are also benefitting from the new law.
The facts are clear.
During the last three years, more than 71 million privately-insured Americans have gained access to free preventive services. At least 105 million Americans have had lifetime limits removed from their insurance.
More than 13 million of us have received a staggering $1 billion or more in rebates from health insurance companies that charged them excessive premiums.
Yet this is not all that we have accomplished thus far in our efforts to reform healthcare financing.
During those same three initial years, more than 6.3 million of our neighbors who rely upon Medicare have saved over $6.1 billion on their prescription drugs – and 34 million seniors have received a free preventive service.
A total of 6.6 million young adults up to age 26 have obtained insurance through their parents’ plans.
These results have been real, practical and well-deserved contributions to people’s lives. Now, our challenge is to successfully implement the next stage of health insurance reform.
Here in Maryland, we still have the president’s back where extending affordable healthcare to all Americans is concerned. More to the point, as our Sept. 14 town hall’s participants will attest, we have our own backs – and our neighbors’ as well.
Congressman John Conyers Jr., Congressman Robert Scott and Maryland Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown were eloquent in their presentations as they advanced our concept that affordable health care is a fundamental human rights obligation for any truly civilized society.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Regional Director Joanne Corte Grossi and Baltimore City’s Health Commissioner, Dr. Oxiris Barbot, laid out the challenges involved in connecting the hundreds of thousands of uninsured Marylanders to better healthcare at costs that they can afford.
Most of all, however, we must give credit to the community leaders who now must take “ObamaCare” into its final, most essential stage.
On Oct. 1, we will begin open enrollment in the ACA’s new Health Insurance Marketplaces.
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.
Here in Maryland, our marketplace will provide direct local access, including HealthCare Access Maryland (www.healthcareaccessmaryland.org) (410-649-0500) and Healthy Howard (www.healthyhowardmd.org) (410-988-3737).
These on-line marketplaces, along with the convenience and expanded competition among insurers that they will encourage, are important practical elements in advancing our progressive vision.
Another is the increased federal support to Maryland’s Federally Qualified Community Health Centers. These health centers will be a critical bridge to better health for the nearly 300,000 patients they served last year, one-quarter of whom were uninsured.
I am confident that the outreach by these organizations will be substantial. Yet, I believe that our success will require the engagement of our faith communities, unions and social organizations if we truly are to get the job of insuring everyone accomplished.
We have been fighting minority health disparities for decades. Now we have a president and a national healthcare policy that can save hundreds of thousands – if not millions – of lives.
Tens of thousands of our neighbors here in central Maryland lack health insurance. Far too many of our infants are dying.
Women and men alike who could be saved if they were afforded preventive care can now have access to the best healthcare facilities in the world.
Here is a basic truth.
While some are doing everything within their power to make healthcare reform fail, it will be the active engagement by our religious, social, labor and community leaders who can make these reforms succeed.
I firmly believe that only these community leaders can assure that barriers to better health are broken down and relegated to the past.
As President Obama recently reminded us from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, when we reach out to lift up our neighbors in life, we, too, are marching for civil rights.
Brothers and Sisters, once again, it’s time to get marching.
Congressman Elijah Cummings represents Maryland's Seventh Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives.