Elijah Cummings

As Americans pause in reflection during this season of our Thanksgiving, most of us would consider our families and health as the blessings that we most value.  This insight about our core values helps to crystalize why the Affordable Care Act (“ACA”) is fast becoming an accomplishment of historic proportions.

Last year, nearly 124,000 Marylanders enrolled for private health coverage for themselves and their families through Maryland Health Connection, the health insurance exchange that Maryland created in accordance with the ACA.  Another 482,000 Marylanders signed up for no-cost or low-cost Medicaid insurance during 2014 under expanded Medicaid eligibility provisions.

The vast majority of these newly insured neighbors received discounts on their insurance premiums in accordance with our national commitment to making health care more affordable.  Many had been denied protection in the past, either for financial reasons or due to preexisting medical conditions.

Deeply gratifying to me, personally, the number of uninsured Maryland children declined by more than 28 percent during the first year after the ACA became operational.  By law, that essential protection for our young includes legally required access to pediatric dental care, a reform that I long have championed.

Despite the continuing, often partisan, political debate about expanding access to health care, we can be thankful that President Obama’s leadership and the resolve of Democrats in Washington and Annapolis have reaffirmed our community’s commitment to the health of our families.

Largely as a direct result of the ACA, the number of Marylanders still lacking essential health care coverage fell last year to 463,000 (7.9 percent) – progress that reflects both our highest values and the challenges that we still must overcome.

As we move forward toward our goal of universal access to affordable healthcare, we must not allow the relentless attacks on “ObamaCare” to cloud the American People’s perception of reality.

I continue to believe that the most effective (and affordable) answer to disparities in health care would be expansion of Medicare to everyone.  However, the first, essential step toward that goal was to establish access to affordable care as a federally guaranteed right for everyone, not a privilege.

The Affordable Care Act established health care access as a federal right.  Now, the evidence is becoming clear that the ACA is succeeding in its practical, real life objectives of expanded access to care, enhanced quality of care, and cost restraint.  Consider these facts:

Prior to Democratic enactment of the Affordable Care Act more than 18,000 Americans were dying prematurely each year due to their lack of affordable and timely access to care (according to the National Institute of Medicine). For Americans of Color, it is probable that the casualty rate was far more pronounced.

Prior to the ACA, the sharply rising costs of health care were not simply straining the budgets of government, businesses and families. Those rising costs threatened financial hemorrhaging from which our society could not easily recover.

President Obama and Democrats in Congress had to take action – and we did.  With virtually no Republican support, the Affordable Care Act is now making demonstrable progress, both in expanding access to health care and in restraining rising health care costs.

Despite an expanding body of verifiable evidence that the ACA is making progress toward its national objectives, the struggle to achieve truly universal access to affordable, high quality health care continues.

Tragically, far too many Republican-dominated states have rejected the ACA’s federally-funded Medicaid expansion, leaving their less affluent citizens to confront illness and accidents alone and without adequate care.

Irresponsibly, many reactionary politicians, both in the Congress and in their presidential campaigns, continue in their efforts to destroy our expansion of health care — without offering any workable alternative of their own.

Yet, here in Maryland we can be thankful that our State continues to affirm our values of family and health by expanding – not denying— access to care.  Early stumbles notwithstanding, we remain leaders in a national movement that affirms the value of every human life.

I offer this expression of Thanksgiving at a time when open enrollment for 2016 through Maryland’s online insurance marketplace under the Affordable Care Act is now underway and, by most accounts, proceeding smoothly.

Maryland’s health insurance marketplace is the primary access point through which people can compare insurance plan benefits and costs — and the means by which we can obtain federal help with paying the cost of insurance for our families.

By all accounts, marylandhealthconnection.gov has solved most of the technical problems that hindered easy Internet access back in 2013, and the enrollment site is now far more user-friendly.

Marylanders can obtain additional information and assistance by calling the Exchange’s support center at (855) 642-8572.  Extensive, face-to-face community outreach also is ongoing.

The Affordable Care Act will continue to succeed if we encourage everyone we know to seek the health insurance that every American needs.  We all have an important part to play.

Doing all that we can to assure better health for our families and friends is truly an act of Thanksgiving.

Congressman Elijah Cummings represents Maryland’s 7th Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives.