Last March, President Obama invited me to join him at the White House as he signed our Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (H.R. 3590) into law.

While waiting for the President to arrive at that historic ceremony, my thoughts went out to the millions of Americans whose lives will be transformed for the better because of what we had been able to accomplish.

I thought back to July of last year when thousands of our neighbors dialed into to my Healthcare Telephone Town Hall. They knew that health care reform was a challenge we had to meet.

My neighbors expressed their deep concerns about skyrocketing insurance premiums, losing their coverage, and being denied insurance because of “pre-existing conditions.” They understood that out-of-control costs and bloated insurance company profits were stifling our economy and forcing thousands into bankruptcy.

Most compelling of all, they testified to an even harsher truth. Tens of thousands of Americans have been dying each year because they lacked insurance coverage.

Our president and I realized that these premature deaths are an unacceptable blight upon our national morality. Standing there with him last March, I recalled a press conference I had held to project some humanity into a national healthcare debate that was becoming too abstract.

I will never forget those who spoke then from their own life experience.

Beverly Barkoye had suffered two strokes. Any humane society would have assured her a regular doctor’s care – but she was living in fear because she had no insurance.

Mr. George Kelly and Ms. Sandra Teplica had lost their insurance coverage while being treated for cancer – and, then, were denied alternative coverage because they had “preexisting conditions.”

“What are we to do?” they asked their nation.

Now, we can give them the answer they deserve.

Aug. 1, 2010, was the day our Affordable Care Act became real for people in Maryland with “pre-existing conditions,” a day all of us should remember and celebrate. Here in Maryland, thanks to visionary action by Gov. Martin O’Malley and our Maryland Legislature, our State can expect to receive $85 million in federal funding to assure that neighbors like Beverly Barkoye, George Kelly and Sandra Teplica receive the more affordable, high-quality health insurance that they need.

It is critical that we pass this message on to family and friends who have no health insurance because of their medical condition.

Now, after being without insurance for six months, Maryland residents with pre-existing medical conditions can apply for and receive insurance through the Maryland Health Insurance Plan.

They simply need to call (443) 738-0067 or go on the Internet to The MHIP Federal Insurance Plan covers a broad range of health benefits, including primary and specialty care, hospital care and prescription drugs – and it does so even when the health care treatment is for pre-existing conditions.

This insurance is designed to be affordable, not free. Premiums range from $141 monthly for individuals under 30 to $354 monthly from persons 65 and older. There also is a $1,500 deductible and a $1,500 out-of-pocket limit.

To be certain, this is not the national, single-payer health insurance system based upon Medicare that I would prefer (and believe this nation will ultimately adopt). However, it is a life-saver for the nearly 10,000 Marylanders – like Beverly Barkoye, George Kelly and Sandra Teplica – whose lives would be at far greater risk without it.

For all of the ranting, partisan opposition, the debate about health care reform is ultimately based upon a very straightforward choice: Either we believe that every life has value and that we all are in this life together or we do not.

No humane society can allow between 18,000 and 45,000 human beings to die every year, simply because they cannot afford a health insurance plan. That, however, is precisely what the greatest nation in the world has been doing – and what our Affordable Care Act is designed to end.

After all, our survival and the survival of those we love are also pre-existing conditions – to everything else in life that we hold dear.

Congressman Elijah E. Cummings represents Maryland’s Seventh Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives.